Brit tracking asteroids from hilltop in bid to save world from apocalypse

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A former British Army Major now spends his days helping Nasa track potentially dangerous asteroids and objects in space.

Jay Tate heads up the Spaceguard Centre in Wales. The hilltop observatory is the perfect place to observe oncoming asteroids or potential danger to the planet.

He’s part of a global effort by scientists and amateur astronomers to keep a watchful eye on objects in space that could pose a threat to life on Earth.

Jay told The Sun: “There are a number of hazards that our species faces, probably the only one that could produce mass extinction in a short period is the threat from asteroids and comets.”

He served for the 26 years in the Army specialising in surface to air missile systems and now dedicates his life to this cause.

Jay's work has been drawn into sharp focus by the Netflix film Don't Look Up, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, which shows two astronomers trying to warn humanity about an approaching comet that will destroy civilisation.

The Spaceguard Centre tracks asteroids that are discovered mainly by American funded search programmes and Jay thinks his team have tracked up to 10,000 asteroids over the years.

Weather-dependant, Jay fires up Spaceguard’s telescope and sets to work tracing asteroids identified by various survey stations, usually in the United States.

Every day he receives a list of objects from the Minor Planets Centre which helps him keep track of what’s flying about in our cosmic neighbourhood. It’s the global library of known asteroids and comets and helps Jay know where to look.

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"The aim of the game is to take sets of photographs of each object to determine its orbit around the sun," Jay said. "Then we can find out if it's going to be a problem or not."

Spaceguard and other teams around the globe work together by feeding their data back to each other and they are then able to gradually build a map of these objects and can track them safely.

Nasa has been attempting to track near-Earth-objects (NEOs) since the 1970s and in 1994, it became a government mandate to locate objects larger than one kilometre in size. By 2010, they’d pulled it off.

Since then, smaller objects have become the focus of NEO hunters like Jay and his team, with more than 24,000 detected so far in the atmosphere. None so far have posed a threat as most are the size of a car and would simply burn up within the Earth’s atmosphere.

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"To take out a reasonable-sized country or small continent, you probably need something about a hundred and fifty metres across," Jay told The Sun.

"For global effects, you need something maybe a kilometre or two across. Mass extinctions begin to creep in between the five to ten-kilometre size."

"To take out a reasonable-sized country or small continent, you probably need something about a hundred and fifty metres across," Jay told The Sun.

Currently, the threat of all observable objects in the solar system are still very low, but that doesn’t stop Jay from using his telescope and keeping a close eye on the atmosphere. He feels that protecting us is of upmost importance.

  • British Army
  • Nasa
  • Asteroids
  • Space
  • Spaced Out

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