June 11, 2021—Press release (Source: UArizona News) NASA has tasked Amy Mainzer, an expert in infrared astronomy at the University of Arizona, with leading NEO Surveyor,... Read more


Finding Asteroids Before They Find Us

Near-Earth Objects, or NEOs, are asteroids and comets that come close to the Earth. A small fraction of them are potentially hazardous.

The Near-Earth Object Surveyor Mission, or NEO Surveyor, is a new NASA mission that is designed to discover and characterize most of the potentially hazardous NEOs. NEO Surveyor, led by UA, is a planetary defense mission designed to respond to the objectives of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office by detecting, cataloguing, and characterizing NEOs larger than 140 meters. In doing so, the NEO Surveyor mission provides critical decision support to NASA and other decision-makers who must assess the risks of NEO impacts to Earth and must identify potential mitigation strategies.

NEO Surveyor is a directed NASA mission and is currently in Phase B.

NEO Surveyor spacecraft, the flight segment of NEO Surveyor (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The University of Arizona has a long history in the discovery and characterization of NEOs. Two ground-based NEO surveys, the Spacewatch project (Kitt Peak National Observatory, Arizona) and the Catalina Sky Survey (Mt. Lemmon Observatory, Arizona) have detected nearly 50% of all known NEOs to date. Extending this capability to outer space, UA is home to the NEO Surveyor mission as well as the ongoing NEOWISE mission.  Both are space-based infrared telescopes that detect and characterize near-Earth objects. NEOWISE is a smaller, Earth-orbiting telescope currently in extended mission operations. NEOWISE serves as a key precursor mission for the new NEO Surveyor, which will greatly expand NASA's ability to find Earth-approaching asteroids and comets.

NEO Surveyor will complement the capabilities of NEOWISE and enable NASA to find NEOs much faster. NEO Surveyor’s flight segment is a space-based observatory of the same name. The NEO Surveyor payload contains an infrared telescope operating in two infrared bands, 4-5 microns and 6-10 microns.  With the use of an all-infrared telescope, NEO Surveyor is optimized for the task of finding and characterizing the impact risks posed by potentially hazardous objects, both as individual objects and as populations.