North Route

•TEL-14 Spacewatch 1.8-meter telescope

• TEL-15 Spacewatch 0.9-meter telescope

• TEL-16 Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Super-LOTIS (0.6 meter)

• TEL-17 0.18-meter Hungarian automated telescope

• TEL-18 Steward Observatory (University of Arizona) 2.3-meter Bok telescope

• TEL-19 KPNO 4-meter Mayall telescope

• V1P-8 Coyote Mountains

• V1P-9 Many, many mountains

• V1P-10 Even more mountains

Northwest of the Visitor Center parking lot, the walk towards the Mayall 4-meter telescope is short, but becomes a bit steep on final approach. The concrete "donut" just out of sight near the Bok 90-inch telescope (left) displays its mirror's size. Photo by GBA.

The Spacewatch project, operated by the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory of the University of Arizona, searches for asteroids that potentially could collide with the Earth. Even a small body could make a crater the size of the one near Winslow, Arizona. Somewhat bigger asteroids, a few hundred meters across, could destroy a large city. The goal of the Spacewatch project is to find these objects and determine their orbits, so that we can predict if or when they will collide with the Earth. If we know that a collision is coming, the hope is that we might be able to do something to push the asteroid out of its collision path. Astronomers have found less than half of the asteroids larger than 1 kilometer that potentially could strike the Earth. About once every few years a small asteroid explodes high in the Earth's atmosphere with a force similar to the first atomic bomb (exploded near Alamagordo, New Mexico). These explosions were discovered quite recently by defense satellites orbiting the Earth.

Larger asteroids also threaten the Earth; it is estimated that they hit about once every 30 million years or so. A particularly massive impact killed all of the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago, causing many species on the Earth to become extinct. As far as astronomers and geologists can determine, that was the largest asteroid (or comet) collision with the Earth for the last 300 million years.

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