May 11, 2021

The IAC participates in the space mission Hera – The Province

The IAC participates in the space mission Hera - The Province

The Gran Telescopio Canarias will watch the asyroid Didymos, main objective of the space mission Hera of the European Space Agency (THAT). In the coming weeks the best telescopes in the world will point to the binary asteroid Didymos. It is a planetary defense mission (in phase B1 of study) that will orbit a binary asteroidal system for the first time.

Hera is the European contribution to DART mission of the POT, whose goal is to impact on the smallest object in the system, also called "Didymoon", with a diameter of about 160 meters, which is orbiting at a distance of one kilometer from the largest object, which has a diameter of around 780 meters.

Hera will study the changes that this impact will generate in the orbit of the secondary around the larger object. Both missions were conceived as part of the international experiment "Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment" (AIDA), designed for the study of techniques of diversion of future asteroids that could impact our planet and key to planetary defense initiatives.

The observation campaign to characterize the asteroid Didymos will begin on March 8 with the Gran Canarias Telescopio (GTC). These observations will be carried out by Julia de León and Marcel Popescu, postdoctoral researchers of the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands. Dr. de León is one of the heads of the Remote Observations Working Group of the Hera mission, which also includes Dr. Popuescu and Dr. Javier Licandro (IAC).

The task of this working group is the coordination of observations from different telescopes around the world in order to have the system characterized as accurately as possible before the impact. "We need to know very well the orbital properties of the secondary, such as its period of rotation or if it is anchored to the main object, that is, if the time it takes to go around the primary is equal to the time it takes to go around himself "explains Julia de León.

Obtaining this type of information requires large telescopes, such as the GTC, since it is necessary to accurately measure small temporal variations in the brightness of the system. These observations are fundamental to understand and evaluate the changes that the impact produced by DART will generate in the orbit of the system.

The Gran Telescopio CANARIAS (GTC), installed in the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory (Garafía, La Palma) is part of the Singular Scientific and Technical Infrastructure network (ICTS) of Spain.


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