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Meerkat Asteroid Guard – ESA’s Imminent Impactor Warning Service

Presentation #405.04 in the session Asteroids: Planetary Defense (Poster + Lightning Talk)

Published onOct 23, 2023
Meerkat Asteroid Guard – ESA’s Imminent Impactor Warning Service

Introduction: Telescope surveys continuously scan the night sky in search for undiscovered asteroids and comets. New detections need to be immediately analyzed, even before they receive an official designation. This is necessary for promptly performing follow-up observations in case of potential impact hazards, and eventually start mitigation actions. Here we introduce Meerkat, an automated imminent impactor warning service developed and operated by the NEO Coordination Centre (NEOCC), part of ESA’s Planetary Defence Office (PDO).

Meerkat Asteroid Guard: Until today, only seven asteroids were discovered before their impact, and all of them were first observed less than 24 hours before the impact. This underlines the need for a rapid orbit determination and threat assessment. Besides impactors, other interesting artificial and natural objects are regularly discovered, which need to be identified among conventional near-Earth objects (NEOs) and followed up, before their ephemerides get too uncertain and they get lost.

The NEOCC developed and operates an independent imminent impactor warning service, called Meerkat Asteroid Guard. The fully automated system is running 24/7 and analyses newly discovered objects, published on the NEO Confirmation Page (NEOCP) of the Minor Planet Center (MPC). Meerkat uses the systematic ranging technique to compute a preliminary orbit and detect potential impacts. In addition, the system is searching for close approaching objects, interior-Earth objects, and potential interstellar objects. If a notable object is found, Meerkat automatically informs subscribers via e-mail, reporting specialized plots that help to estimate the real threat of a potential impactor. In addition, all results of the computation can be accessed via a web-portal, currently internal to NEOCC but that will soon be made public to service subscribers.

Since its introduction, Meerkat has been improved in terms of stability, reliability, and performance. It successfully detected the last three impactors, 2022 EB5, 2022 WJ1, and 2023 CX1, and timely raised warnings that allowed observers to trigger follow-up observations. In turn, these observations restricted the foreseen impact area to few km, permitting to alert the public of the upcoming fireball and later to help researcher finding the meteorites.

Since December 2022, NEO community can subscribe to the Meerkat alerts mailing list. The subscription can be requested at the address [email protected].

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