Asteroid passing Earth allows trackers to test impact warning systems

Asteroid trackers around the world will today test asteroid warning systems on an asteroid passing Earth.

The asteroid, named 2012 TC4, was first spotted 5 years ago, but will today pass Earth at a distance of about 42,000km (26,000 miles), which will bring it within the Moon’s orbit.

Its close approach to Earth will give trackers the chance to test a growing global observing network who will communicate and coordinate their optical and radar observations in a real scenario.

“This campaign is a team effort that involves more than a dozen observatories, universities and labs around the globe so we can collectively learn the strengths and limitations of our near-Earth object observation capabilities,” said Vishnu Reddy, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson, who is leading the 2012 TC4 campaign.

“This effort will exercise the entire system, to include the initial and follow-up observations, precise orbit determination, and international communications.”

Orbit prediction experts say the asteroid, which measures somewhere between 15m and 30m (50-100ft) in size, poses no risk of impact with Earth.

However, when a similar sized asteroid exploded over Chelyabinsk in central Russia in 2013 it produced 30 times the kinetic energy of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and caused a shockwave that resulted in damage to buildings and injured more than a thousand people.

Observers around the world have been tracking TC4 as it approaches Earth and reporting their observations to the Minor Planet Center, where the conclusion has been made that it poses no threat and merely provides a platform to test for real asteroid impacts.

No asteroid currently known is predicted to impact Earth for the next 100 years.

Image courtesy of Alex Alishevskikh. Feature image courtesy of  NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Asteroid trackers are using this flyby to test the worldwide asteroid detection and tracking network, assessing our capability to work together in response to finding a potential real asteroid-impact threat,” said Michael Kelley, program scientist and NASA lead for the TC4 observation campaign.

Tens of professionally run telescopes across the globe will be taking ground-based observations from visible to near-infrared to radar.

Amateur astronomers may contribute more observations, but the asteroid will be very difficult for backyard astronomers to see, as current estimates are that it will reach a visual magnitude of only about 17 at its brightest, and it will be moving very fast across the sky.

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Skydio unveils its obstacle-dodging, thrill-seeking, AI-powered drone

An autonomous drone startup founded by former MIT researchers has today launched its R1, a fully autonomous flying camera that follows its subjects through dense and challenging environments.

In a promotional video, launched to introduce the autonomous camera, R1 can be seen following an athlete as she parkours her way through dense woodland.

The drone’s makers Skydio have explained that the camera combines artificial intelligence, computer vision, and advanced robotics and works by anticipating how people move, so R1 can make intelligent decisions about how to get the smoothest, most cinematic footage in real-time.

“The promise of the self-flying camera has captured people’s imaginations, but today’s drones still need to be flown manually for them to be useful,” said Adam Bry, CEO and co-founder of Skydio.

“We’ve spent the last four years solving the hard problems in robotics and AI necessary to make fully autonomous flight possible. We’re incredibly excited about the creative possibilities with R1, and we also believe that this technology will enable many of the most valuable drone applications for consumers and businesses over the coming years.”

Launching today is the Frontier Edition of R1, which is aimed at athletes, adventurers, and creators.

This version of R1 is powered by the Skydio Autonomy Engine, enabling it to see and understand the world around it so that it can fly safely at speeds of upto 25mph while avoiding obstacles.

The autonomous drone is fitted with 13 cameras, which gives it the ability to map and understand the world in real-time, allowing it to be fully autonomous and independently capture footage that in Skydio’s words “once required a Hollywood film crew” and will “enable a new type of visual storytelling”.

The R1 “Frontier Edition” is available for order now on Skydio’s website for $2,499.