Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
. Space Industry and Business News .

Space oddity: the mystery of 2013 QW1
by Staff Writers
Paris (ESA) Sep 25, 2013

DOLORES, for 'Device Optimized for the LOw RESolution', spectrum for object 2013 QW1. Image courtesy Observatoire de Paris/D. Perna and Maria Antonietta Barucci.

Last month, ESA's near-Earth asteroid coordination centre triggered a series of European observations that confirmed an unknown object was, in fact, of human origin. The confirmation was the Centre's second such success in recent months and demonstrates the effectiveness of the Agency's asteroid-monitoring activities.

On 23 August, a rather unusual object was spotted in the sky by the US PanSTARRS asteroid survey and provisionally named 2013 QW1.

The suspected near-Earth object (NEO) was moving in an Earth-centred orbit, leading astronomers to ask: was it natural or artificial?

If artificial, it would not be the first time that an asteroid-hunting survey had rediscovered a lost rocket stage wandering in space close to the edge of our planet's gravitational reach.

Another object found in 2002
For example, when the third stage of the Apollo 12 mission failed to crash on the Moon as planned (NASA used such impacts to generate "Moonquakes" that could be studied by lunar seismographs to gain information on the Moon's interior), its subsequent orbital evolution was alternatively dominated by the attraction of the Sun and Earth.

The object was eventually rediscovered in 2002 as a temporary satellite of Earth, and its manmade origin was revealed by analysing the light reflected by the rocket body, which did not resemble that of an asteroid but rather revealed the titanium-enriched white paint used at that time for the Apollo rockets.

However, for the mysterious 2013 QW1, things were not that simple, and further observations were needed to determine whether it was artificial or natural.

That's when ESA's NEO Coordination Centre became involved, sending an alert to a number of collaborating observatories in Europe to trigger additional observations that might help to confirm the object's identity.

European astronomers up to the challenge
The challenge was taken up by a team led by Elisabetta Dotto at INAF-Osservatorio di Roma, and Davide Perna and Maria Antonietta Barucci at the Observatoire de Paris, Meudon, who obtained time on the Italian Telescopio Nazionale Galileo to capture light reflected from the object.

"It was a bit of a challenge, because the object was moving fast with respect to a typical suspected NEO," said Dr Perna.

"But despite the difficulties, observations were made with an instrument called DOLORES, for 'Device Optimized for the LOw RESolution', which allowed us to obtain the object's spectrum."

The result was a spectrum that does not resemble any asteroid. Instead, it bore strong similarities with the spectra of previously observed space junk such as discarded rocket stages, abandoned boosters or defunct satellites.

These measurements provided convincing evidence of the artificial nature of 2013 QW1 - it is possibly a booster stage - and supported it being removed from ESA's NEO catalogue and included, under the name 2010-050B, in the Minor Planet Center's Distant Artificial Satellite Observations list.

ESA's coordinating role
The event highlights the coordination role that ESA's new NEO Coordination Centre is playing in addition to its primary function of providing information on all known NEOs, including their orbits, impact risk and close approaches to Earth.

"The observations by European astronomers coordinated by ESA demonstrated a very quick reaction in getting high-quality data that conclusively identified the object as artificial, and hence no threat," says Detlef Koschny, responsible for NEO activities at ESA's Space Situational Awareness programme office.

"Our Centre has again shown it is serving as a focal point for coordinating observations which are vital for the European and international community involved in asteroid science, impact monitoring and mitigation."


Related Links
Minor Planet Center
Space Technology News - Applications and Research

Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

Will 'space junk' problem intensify?
Moscow (Voice of Russia) Aug 21, 2013
The United States is planning to shut down a key component of its space surveillance network that tracks satellites and "space junk" orbiting the Earth. As a result, satellite launches and flights to the International Space Station (ISS) may involve a higher degree of risk. The Air Force Space Surveillance System known as Space Fence consists of three two-mile-long transmitter antennae and ... read more

Space oddity: the mystery of 2013 QW1

Domain walls as new information storage medium

Invention jet prints nanostructures with self-assembling material

New Model Should Expedite Development of Temperature-Stable Nano-Alloys

Third Advanced EHF Satellite Will Enhance Resiliency of Military Communications

USAF Launches Third Advanced Extremely High Frequency Satellite

Atlas 5 Lofts 3rd AEHF Military Comms Satellites

Unified Military Intelligence Picture Helping to Dispel the Fog of War

Arianespace and Astrium sign deal to begin production of 18 new Ariane 5 vehicles

Problems with Proton booster fixed

Decontamination continues at Baikonur after Proton abortive launc

Russia launches three communication satellites

OHN Christner Trucking Selects Orbcomm For Refrigerated Telematics Solution

Raytheon GPS military system achieves 2,000th sale

GPS III And OCX Satellite Launch and Early Orbit Operations Successfully Demonstrated

Raytheon UK receives first order for its latest GPS Anti-Jam prototype

Airbus, Boeing project commercial aviation needs

Boeing to cut C-17 production jobs

EU urges global deal on airline pollution

Sikorsky S-97 Raider nears final assembly

Graphene Photodetector Integrated into Computer Chip

On the Road to Fault-Tolerant Quantum Computing

Dow Jones to part with tech news site AllThingsD

The '50-50' chip: Memory device of the future?

Preparing to launch Swarm

ESA's GOCE mission to end this year

NASA Launches Study of New Global Land Imaging System

Astrium to provide new satellite imagery for Google Maps and Google Earth

Legacy Soil Pollution Higher lead levels may lie just below surface

PNG makes BHP liable for environmental damage from mine

Throw away replaces take away for Danish restaurant

Costa Concordia salvage operation to go ahead

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement