We finally have the technological means to detect interstellar objects. We have detected two in recent years, ‘Oumuamua and 2I/Borisov, and there are undoubtedly others.
As such, there has been a lot of interest in developing a mission that could visit one once we detect it. But what would such a mission look like?
Now, a draft paper from a team of mostly American scientists has tried to answer that question and brought us closer to launching such a mission.
Part of what makes an interstellar visitor mission interesting is that interstellar visitors are so weird. Borisov acted like a typical comet once it entered the solar system, but ‘Oumuamua was a completely different beast.
It never developed a cometary tail, as many scientists expected. It also exhibited an acceleration that did not seem to be explained by radiative or other means, leading some prominent scientists to claim that it could even have been an extraterrestrial probe.
The best way to combat these fanciful claims is to examine them closely. And to do that, we need to have a mission that can catch him. But first, it would have to be seen, and astronomers are already working on it.
The Vera C Rubin Observatory Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) will be able to detect somewhere between 1 and 10 interstellar objects the same size as ‘Oumuamua each year, according to the authors’ calculations.
That’s a lot of opportunities to find the right candidate. But what criteria must this candidate meet?
The most important would be: “Where does he come from?” While there is no “best” angle of approach for an interstellar object (ISO), it does make a difference depending on where we store the “interstellar interceptor” (ISI).
According to the article, the best place for this is most likely the Earth-Sun Lagrange point L2. It has more than one advantage – first, there is very little fuel needed to stay in station, and any ISI might need to sit in storage mode for years.
Once put into action, he must react quickly and another L2 inhabitant could help him do this.
NASA’s Time Domain Spectroscopic Observatory (TSO) is a 1.5m telescope planned to sit at the Lagrange point L2, along with more famous telescopes like the JWST.
For all its incredible 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 ISOs. TSO, on the other hand, only takes a few minutes.
It could be supplemented by another telescope, the future Near Earth Object Surveyor, which is intended to reside at the Lagrange point L1 of the Earth-Moon system.
When combined with the TSO, these two fast-reacting telescopes should be able to capture images of any ISO that enters the inner solar system and is not directly on a path along the L1 baseline. -L2.
Once detected, accessing the ISO is the next task. Some will unfortunately be out of reach from an orbital mechanics perspective.
But the authors calculate that there is an 85% chance that an ISI stored at L2 can find a suitable ‘Oumuamua-sized object of interest within 10 years.
So, in essence, once we are able to detect ISOs, we just have to wait patiently for the right opportunity.
Once the ISI reaches ISO, it can then begin close observation, including a full spectroscopic map of natural and man-made materials, which could help settle the debate over whether these objects are probes. made by aliens.
He could also watch for any outgassing that could explain the mysterious forces acting on ‘Oumuamua.
There are undoubtedly many more exciting things scientists would like to understand about the first interstellar object we visit.
But by the calculations in this article, there will be plenty of opportunities to do so, and plenty of data to collect when we do. It’s time to move on to the planning stages, then!
This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the original article.
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