ATLAS Asteroid Tracking System

The NASA-funded Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) has become first survey capable of searching entire dark sky for near-Earth objects (NEOs), every 24 hours.

Key Facts

  • ATLAS is a state-of-the-art asteroid detection system. It is operated by University of Hawai‘i (UH) Institute for Astronomy(IfA) for Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) of NASA.
  • ATLAS has expanded its reach to southern hemisphere by including two additional observatories in Chile and South Africa. It now comprises of four telescopes.
  • It has two existing northern-hemisphere telescopes on Haleakala and Maunaloa in Hawai‘i.
  • ATLAS is now capable of searching entire dark sky every 24 hours. Thus, it has become an important asset for NASA’s continuous effort for finding, tracking and monitoring NEOs.

Who developed ATLAS?

First two ATLAS telescopes were developed in Hawai‘I, by UH IfA. It was developed under a 2013 grant from NASA’s Near-Earth Objects Observations Program. Now, these telescopes are part of NASA’s PDCO. The two facilities on Haleakala and Maunaloa, became fully operational in 2017.

Discoveries by ATLAS

As of now, ATLAS system has discovered more than 700 near-Earth asteroids and 66 comets. It also detected two very small asteroids, 2019 MO and 2018 LA, that actually impacted Earth. ATLAS is specially designed for detecting objects approaching very close to Earth. ATLAS-Sutherland in South Africa, recently discovered its first NEO called 2022 BK. 2022 BK is a 100-meter asteroid and it poses no threat to Earth.

NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART)

It is world’s first full-scale mission for testing a technology to defend Earth against potential asteroid impacts. It was launched on November 24, 2021, from Space Force Base in California, onboard SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. DART was launched to deflect a known asteroid, for slightly changing asteroid’s motion.

Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO)

PDCO is a planetary defense organization. It was established in January 2016 within the Planetary Science Division of Science Mission Directorate of NASA.

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