We finally have the technological tools to detect interstellar objects. We have discovered two in recent years, ‘Oumuamua and 2I/Borisov, and there are undoubtedly more out there.
As such, there is a lot of interest in developing a mission that could visit it once it is detected. But what does this mission look like?
Now, drawing paper from the handwriting of American scientists, especially Americans, has taken a shot at solving that problem and has moved us one step closer to conducting such a mission.
Part of what makes an interstellar visitor mission interesting is that interstellar visitors are so weird. Borisov acted like a typical comet once it entered the Solar System, but ‘Oumuamua’ was a completely different beast.
The comet’s tail never developed, as many scholars have thought. It also shows acceleration, which doesn’t seem to be considered radiative or otherwise, leading some prominent scientists to claim that it might have been on an alien probe as well.
It is best to fight for such fictions to be scrutinized. To do and to do, to have a mission that can catch up with us. But we want to see first, and the astrologers are already working.
The Vera C Rubin Legacy Space and Time Survey Observatory (LSST) will be able to detect anywhere between 1-10 interstellar objects of the same size as ‘Oumuamua every year, according to the authors’ calculations.
A lot of that stuff is finding the right candidates. But what criteria must that candidate meet?
Most importantly, “Where is it?” While approaching from an interstellar object is not the “best” angle, it does make a difference where we place the “interstellar interceptor” (ISI).
According to the paper, the best location, which is likely to be the Earth-Sun L2 Lagrange point. It has more than one advantage – firstly, little fuel is needed to stay on station, and any ISI would have to stay in storage for years.
When called into action, he has to act quickly, and another L2 resident could help.
NASA’s Time-domain Spectroscopic Observatory (TSO) is a 1.5-m telescope designed to locate the L2 Lagrange point, along with brighter telescopes such as JWST.
For all its amazing capabilities for capturing spectacular images, JWST has a notable weakness – it’s slow. It can take 2-5 days to focus on a specific object, making it useless when tracking ISOs. TSO, on the other hand, takes only a few minutes.
It could be supplemented by another telescope, the planned Earth Object Surveyor, which aims to reside at the L1 Lagrange point of the Earth-Moon system.
Combined with the TSO, these two telescopes provide fast response, ISO images of any ISO that enters the inner solar system that does not directly enter the trajectory through the L1-L2 baseline.
Once detected, getting to the ISO is the next task. Some, unfortunately, will be removed from the Mechanics side of the orbital.
The authors calculate that there is an 85 percent chance that the ISI stored in L2 will be able to find a suitable object the size of ‘Oumuamua within 10 years.
So, in essence, when we’re able to detect ISOs, it’s just a matter of patiently waiting for the right opportunity.
After the ISI reaches ISO, it can then begin the next observations, including a full spectroscopic map of both natural and artificial materials, which can help the debate about whether such observatories are alien.
It could also be a monitor for any emissions that could explain the mysterious forces acting on ‘Oumuamua.
There are undoubtedly many more exciting things that scientists want to understand about the first interstellar we saw.
But there will be plenty of calculations in this paper, and plenty of data to collect when we do it. It’s time to step into the design, then!
This article was first published by Universe Today. Read the original article.
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