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Australian 'scope to help Europe's galaxy-mapping satellite

Zadko telescope ready for earth-saving duty spotting low flying rocks

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Australia's Zadko telescope will be pressed into service assisting The European Space Agency's Gaia satellite.

Gaia's mission is to create “... a three-dimensional map of our Galaxy … in the process revealing the composition, formation and evolution of the Galaxy.” The process of scanning the skies for the billion or so stars needed to accomplish that task will also spot lots of objects far closer to earth.

Which is where West Australia's Zadko Telescope comes in. The one-metre scope is already used to spot potentially hazardous asteroids. Next year, the 'scope will start to work with the Gaia mission, using data from the satellite to improve its rock-spotting prowess.

The collaboration has been detailed in a new paper, Australian participation in the Gaia Follow-Up Network for Solar System Objects that explains that while Gaia will likely spot lots of objects in the solar system, its galactic mission means it won't bother to check them out.

As a facility already accustomed to such studies, Zadko will pick up that slack, and has already conducted tests to ensure it meets the standards set by the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium. Recent upgrades to automate the telescope's movements made it possible to pass those tests, which saw the facility emerge as one of eleven facilities worldwide capable of tracking the movement of Asteroid YU55, an object that passed within 325,000 km of earth in November 2011. 37 facilities tried to spot the asteroid.

The telescope is also planning future upgrades to make it capable of “follow-up of exo-planet candidates,” the paper says. “Furthermore, an image processing pipeline for automated identification and analysis of optical transients is in development and planned for implementation in 2013.” ®

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