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New telescope leaves 'killer' asteroids nowhere to hide

UK boffins will hunt them down

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Astronomers from around the world have joined forces to use a revolutionary new telescope to map the universe, probe the secrets of dark matter, and hunt down earth-threatening asteroids.

The agreement involves researchers from the Max Planck Society in Germany, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, and the Las Cumbres Observatory in the USA, as well as Durham, Edinburgh and Belfast Universities in the UK. Together, the consortium will contribute around $10m to the operating costs of the telescope.

The PSI telescope on Haleakala on Maui is designed to survey the sky to build a detailed three dimensional map of the universe. In total, 30 researchers and their graduate students will spend the next three years analysing the data from the telescope.

It is the first stage in the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) project, developed by researchers at the University of Hawaii. As well as discovering new galaxies and stars, the telescope will be able to identify new solar system objects, such as sub-kilometre asteroids that might threaten Earth.

This will be the main responsibility of researchers at Queen's University, Belfast.

"The current generation of search telescopes are designed for the objects about 1km across and larger, because if one of those hits, it could cause instant global climate change," Alan Fitzsimmons, a professor of astronomy at Queen's University Belfast told the BBC.

"The smaller objects need a larger telescope and a more efficient camera system - they're the kinds of objects Pan-Starrs has been designed to detect," he added.

The UK teams at Durham and Edinburgh will work on imaging more distant objects and studying the evolution of galaxies. ®

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