Indian scientists discover four near-Earth asteroids in NASA-backed research programme

WION Web Team
New Delhi, IndiaEdited By: Bharat SharmaUpdated: Jun 22, 2021, 12:35 PM IST

Representative image of a near-Earth asteroid Photograph:(Twitter)

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Essentially frozen rocks, near-Earth asteroids are objects that come in proximity to Earth due to their orbits

A team of Indian scientists recently discovered four new near-Earth asteroids during a search training programme overseen by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

NASA collaborated with the International Astronomical Search Cooperation and Vigyan Prasar, an organisation within the purview of India’s Ministry of Science and Technology to assist in the discovery. The six-member team of watchdog citizens-turned scientists used communicators and teachers to detect the rocks, setting an industry precedent.

Meet the team: How did they achieve the feat?

The discovery team was led my Meka Susatya Rekha, a science teacher and the recipient of the National Teacher Award, local media reports claimed. Rekha teaches at a school in Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh and has received praise by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for her accomplishments in the field of teaching.

According to Deccan Chronicle, other team members include K Kiran Kumar Reddy from Kadapa, M Suresh from Vijayawada, Neelakantaiah from Chittoor. In addition, the team also received help from an organisation which aims to popularise science called Vijnana Bharati whose PVLN Sriram helped with the discovery.

With this discovery, scientists are backing on the team to unearth much more. With this hope, the six-member team is expected to participate in an asteroid campaign set to take place on India’s 75th Independence Day this year.

As part of their programme, the scientists underwent a 45-day long training programme under the wing of Saptarishi India Asteroid Search Campaign, which was overseen by the All India Asteroid Search Programme.

To help with their goals, the scientists used data and images from the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, a space telescope situated in Hawaii, United States.

But what are near-Earth asteroids?

Essentially frozen rocks, near-Earth asteroids are objects that come in proximity to Earth due to their orbits. Most near-Earth objects are identified as asteroids, but a few are also categorised as comets. There are more than 25,000 known near-Earth asteroids and at least a hundred near-Earth comets. 

Scientists use two scales referred to as “Torino” and “Palermo” to ascertain the risk presented by such near-Earth objects. The scales are also used to identify the risks of the objects impacting Earth. 

Even if measuring as small as 20 metres, asteroids are capable are wreaking havoc to the local environment and populations. If big enough, asteroids could create a crater on Earth. They’re also capable of setting off tsunamis if they make impact in the ocean.

Any body in the universe is categorised as a near-Earth object if their closest approach to our Sun is less than 1.3 astronomical units, a measure of the distance between the Earth and Sun. All near-Earth objects larger than 140 metres are considered potentially hazardous objects.