We finally have the technological means to detect interstellar objects. We have detected two in recent years,’Oumuamua Y 2I/Borisovand there are certainly more out there.
As such, there has been a lot of interest in developing a mission that can visit one once we detect it. But what would such a mission look like?
Now a eraser of a team of primarily American scientists has attempted to answer that question and brought us one step closer to launching such a mission.
Part of what makes an interstellar visitor mission interesting is that interstellar visitors are very rare. Borisov acted like a typical comet once it entered the Solar System, but ‘Oumuamua was a different beast altogether.
It never developed a comet tail, as many scientists expected. It also exhibited acceleration that did not appear to be explained by radiative or other means, leading some prominent scientists to claim that it might even have been an alien probe.
The best way to combat such fanciful claims is to examine them closely. And to do that, we have to have a mission that can catch him. But first we would have to see it, and astronomers are already working on that.
Vera C Rubin Observatory Space and Time Legacy Survey (LSST) will be able to detect between 1 and 10 interstellar objects the same size as ‘Oumuamua each year, according to the authors’ calculations.
That is a great opportunity to find the right candidate. But what criteria must such a candidate meet?
The most important thing would be, “Where does it come from?” While there is no “best” angle for an interstellar object (ISO) to approach, it does make a difference based on where we store the “interstellar interceptor” (ISI).
According to the paper, the best place for that is probably the Earth-Sun L2 Lagrange point. It has more than one advantage: First, very little fuel is needed to stay on station, and any ISI may have to sit in storage mode for years.
Once he springs into action, he has to react quickly and another resident of L2 might be able to help him do it.
NASA’s Time Domain Spectroscopic Observatory (TSO) is a 1.5m telescope planned to be located at the L2 Lagrange point, along with more famous telescopes like the JWST.
For all its amazing ability to capture spectacular images, JWST has one significant weakness: it’s slow. It can take 2-5 days to focus on a specific object, making it useless when tracking ISO. TSO, on the other hand, only takes a few minutes.
It could be supplemented by another telescope, the planned Near Earth Object Surveyor, which is intended to reside at the L1 Lagrange point of the Earth-Moon system.
When combined with the TSO, these two fast-reacting telescopes should be able to image any ISO entering the inner Solar System that isn’t directly on a path along the L1-L2 baseline.
Once detected, getting to the ISO is the next task. Some, unfortunately, will be out of reach from an orbital mechanics point of view.
But the authors calculate that there is an 85 percent chance that an ISI stored in L2 could find a suitable ‘Oumuamua-sized object of interest within 10 years.
So in essence, once we’re able to detect ISO, it’s just a matter of patiently waiting for the right opportunity.
Once the ISI reaches ISO, close-up observation can begin, including a full spectroscopic map of natural and man-made materials, which could help settle the debate over whether such objects are alien-made probes.
It could also monitor any gas releases that might explain the mysterious forces at work on ‘Oumuamua.
There are undoubtedly many more exciting things that scientists would like to understand about the first interstellar object we visit.
But from the calculations in this paper, there will be plenty of opportunities to do so, and plenty of data to collect when we do. Then it’s time to move on to the planning stages!
This article was originally published by universe today. Read the Original article.
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