KEY POINTS

  • The ESA unveiled its programs that are focused on studying asteroids
  • Asteroid Day commemorates the anniversary of the Tunguska Event
  • One of the ESA's programs will detect asteroids that are headed for Earth

Days before the world celebrates Asteroid Day, the European Space Agency (ESA) unveiled the various programs it is currently working on that are focused on protecting the planet from an impact event caused by a near-Earth object.

On Tuesday (June 30), Earth will celebrate Asteroid Day, an annual global event established by the United Nations to commemorate the anniversary of the Tunguska Event. On June 30, 1908, an asteroid entered Earth’s atmosphere and exploded in the sky over the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Russia.

The asteroid’s airburst was so powerful that it flattened about 770 square miles of forest.

In preparation for the upcoming event, the ESA listed down its various programs that are aimed at gathering important information about asteroids. Through these programs, the ESA aims to formulate effective solutions that can prevent a potential asteroid impact on Earth.

“The work of ESA and the international planetary defense community is a great example of how to address this important hazard,” Jan Worner, the director general of the ESA, said in a statement. “An asteroid impact is the only natural disaster we might avoid, if we see one coming soon enough.”

One of the programs that the ESA highlighted is the construction of the Flyeye telescopes near Milan. Once operational, these multi-optic telescopes will be used to automatically detect asteroids that are approaching Earth.

Another program that the agency mentioned is its Near-Earth Object Coordination Center. This facility in Italy analyzing newly-discovered asteroids to see if they pose a threat to Earth.

The ESA is also working on a new possible mission known as the Miniature Asteroid Remote Geophysical Observer (M-Argo). The objective of this mission, which will involve the use of a small spacecraft, is to rendezvous with a near-Earth object in order to study its properties.

Aside from these programs, the agency also highlights its other well-known asteroid projects, such as the Hayabusa 2 mission. For this mission, the ESA provided communication coverage for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, allowing its spacecraft to successfully collect samples from an asteroid.

The ESA also discussed its upcoming missions known as Hera. Through a collaboration with NASA’s DART mission, Hera will determine the possibility of deflecting an asteroid away from Earth.

Two Very Different Asteroids Image of two different asteroids captured by NASA. Photo: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL