Ground-based radar could be one of our best tools against asteroids, says New Decade Study.

An illustration of a new radar system being developed by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the Green Bank Observatory. (Image credit: Sofia Daniello, NRAO/AUI/NSF)

Could radar telescopes be the key to protecting planet Earth?

Ground-based planetary radar is one of the best tools to help protect the planet from impacts from near-Earth objects (NEOs) such as asteroids, according to a new decade-long study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

The decade-long study, in which researchers look ahead to the next 10-plus years, calls for further development of radar systems to help planetary defense by imaging newly discovered NEOs. These images can help determine the likelihood and severity of a potential impact. Fortunately, several such projects are under development by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which operates telescopes around the world, and the Green Bank Observatory (GBO) in West Virginia.

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“Ground-based radar observations of NEOs provide invaluable information for long-term tracking,” the review says. “Because the scale of NEO collision energy with density, diameter, and velocity, and radar, can limit all of this, radar observations of the planets are an important post-discovery characterization technique.”

Such duties could once have been assigned to the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, once the world’s most powerful radar system and radio telescope. But Arecibo unexpectedly collapsed in December 2020, leaving a void in the industry.

However, the NRAO and GBO were already upgrading the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) in Hawaii and the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia to work with Arecibo when the disaster struck and both systems were shut down. now ready to help fill the void. (However, the NRAO has made it clear that the two systems are not intended to replace Arecibo entirely.)

“At NRAO and GBO we have a long history of involvement in planetary radar research and we look forward to adding new capabilities to GBT and VLBA to create a next generation radar system that will serve as an essential tool for planetary science and planetary defense researchers.” Patrick Taylor, head of the radar division of the NRAO and GBO, said in a statement.

The Decadal Review of Planetary Science and Astrobiology 2023-2032 was published on April 19, 2022.

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