Near-Earth Objects are asteroids and comets whose orbits pass closer than 0.3 au to the Earth's orbit. Interest in these objects come from two aspects. First, their close approaches allow detailed observations of small objects. Second, many objects have a non-zero impact probability with the Earth in the next 200 years. The associated field of planetary defence requires measurement of physical and compositional properties to increase the accuracy of risk assessment.
The current generation of NEO surveys are yielding approximately 100 new NEOs per calendar month. Very few of these have any kind of physical observation. Even for NEOs with an effective zero impact probability, population studies allows testing of NEO origins and physical evolution. A particular focus at present are objects with effective diameters of 100-300m. Not only do these NEOs pose the largest unknown threat to Earth, similar-sized objects cannot be easily studied in the main-belt. For example, the commensurate lack of knowledge of objects at this size caused problems in comparisons with the first interstellar object discovered in 2017.
The PhD project will focus on the performing, analysing and interpretation of observations of Near-Earth Objects. Our group are members of both the ATLAS and Pan-STARRS optical NEO surveys, providing a steady stream of new discoveries. We are regular users of UK-supported telescopes at the Isaac Newton Group and the European Southern Observatory. We also collaborate with the TRAPPIST telescope network operated from the University of Liège.
The student will learn how to observe, reduce and analyse photometric and/or spectroscopic data. The aims will be to constrain the spins, shapes and compositions of small NEOs. Aside from these population studies, it is anticipated that the student will be involved in reconnaissance of the Didymos binary system, to assist with preparation of the NASA DART and ESA Hera planetary defence missions.
Supervisor: Prof. Alan Fitzsimmons