Sentry-II Set to Survey Data for Dangerous Asteroids

Dec 8, 2021 | Asteroids, Daily Space, Science

Sentry-II Set to Survey Data for Dangerous Asteroids
IMAGE: This diagram shows the orbits of 2,200 potentially hazardous objects as calculated by JPL’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). Highlighted is the orbit of the double asteroid Didymos, the target of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) mission. CREDIT: NASA/JPL-Caltech

While talk seems to center on the upcoming launch of JWST, the real telescope of interest for us is the Vera Rubin Observatory and its 8.4-meter mirror that will be used to observe the entire night sky every few days. The exact date of first light for this new telescope is somewhat up in the air due to COVID, but when it does become fully operational, there will be vast numbers of new asteroids getting discovered. Rubin observatory will take its place alongside NEOWISE and the Zwicky Transient Facility as just one more tool for finding the rocks that could attack from space.

To transform a few nights observations into long term orbital predictions is the job of software, and for two decades, NASA has been using the Sentry code at Jet Propulsion Laboratory to sort out longterm orbits and possible collisions. While this code is good, it is missing some key abilities, such as the the ability to factor in thermal effects – the Yarkovsky effect – that can cause an object to change orbit just by radiating heat. The software also had the troubling inability to predict future encounters after an object made a close approach to the Earth.

But, for twenty-year-old code, Sentry is kind of awesome; however, it is time for new software, and NASA is now releasing the Sentry II program. According to developer Davide Farnocchia: Every time we came across a special case—like asteroids Apophis, Bennu, or 1950 DA—we had to do complex and time-consuming manual analyses. With Sentry-II, we don’t have to do that anymore.

And just like the original Sentry code, Sentry-II’s results will be automatically put on the internet where you can verify, like I did this morning, that at this moment in time, nothing has been found that is on its way to hit us. Yet.

More Information

NASA JPL press release


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