Subject: "Ask An Infrared Astronomer" - Question


Will the SIRTF be able to detect any inbound earth threatening objects
that might be large enough to cause serious damage to our planet - such
as a large asteroid or a planet x (large body) passing close to earth?

Jason Martell


Hi Jason.

The answer to your question is kind of "yes and no." SIRTF will
definitely have the sensitivity to see even small asteroids or Kuiper
Belt objects (like large comets outside of Pluto's orbit), but there's
still a chance that SIRTF might not see some dangerous objects. You see,
SIRTF is not currently planning to observe the entire sky -it's a
directed telescope that will look only at specific places and objects.
So, there could always be a dangerous asteroid coming at us, but from a
place that SIRTF didn't happen to look at. There have been some recent
infrared surveys
, however, that did look at the entire sky. Some
asteroids may have been too dim to see, but I've got to think that if
there really was a "planet X" out there, those surveys would have found
it. The surveys found hundreds of other giant planets (Brown dwarfs)
outside our solar system, so my guess is that they would have found any
really large objects in our our system as well.

Thanks for the question,

Dr. Michelle Thaller
SIRTF astronomer

SIRTF pre launch video - Click here