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Günther Hasinger

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From the Director

On June 24, NASA announced that the ten thousandth near-Earth object (NEO) had been found—by none other than our own Pan-STARRS 1 telescope on Haleakalā. In fact, PS1 had found nearly 600 of the 10,000 NEOs and continues to add to this total. Recently, the ability of Pan-STARRS to find smaller asteroids has been improved significantly, and we expect the system to dominate asteroid discoveries in the near future. It is important to find and plot the orbits of these objects to determine if any are on a collision course with Earth.

Finding objects with a potential to harm our planet is an important mission of NASA, which provides key funding for the Pan-STARRS project and others searching for NEOs, and of the IfA, where in addition to Pan-STARRS, we have ATLAS, the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System, also funded by NASA. The asteroid impact on the Russian city of Chelyabinsk last February brought the seriousness of this problem to the attention of the world.

Another interesting facet of NASA work on asteroids is the Asteroid Redirect Initiative, a plan to robotically capture a small near-Earth asteroid and redirect it safely to a stable orbit in the Earth-Moon system so that astronauts can visit and explore it. This will help us learn more about asteroids and the formation and history of the solar system. It will also help us prepare for human missions to Mars later in this century. Pan-STARRS and ATLAS will also play an important role in the endeavor of finding suitable asteroid candidates for this mission.

Also in June, NASA announced its Asteroid Grand Challenge to “find all asteroid threats to human populations and know what to do about them.” This endeavor will use partnerships with other government agencies, international organizations, industry, universities, nonprofit organizations, and citizen scientists. One of NASA’s partners is the B612 Foundation, which plans to launch an infrared telescope called “Sentinel” into a Venus-like orbit around the Sun to find near-Earth asteroids in 2017–18. Its goal is to discover and catalog 90 percent of the near-Earth asteroids larger than 140 meters, as well as a significant number of smaller asteroids, during its 6.5-year mission. Ed Lu, chair and CEO of the B612 Foundation, will be in Hawai‘i in August to give a talk about the foundation and its work (see article in this issue). The talk is part of the Sheraton Waikiki/IfA Explorers of the Universe lecture series. I urge all who are interested to attend.

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