Schweickart Prize Awarded to Astronomer Proposing Solar Direction Asteroid Detection Campaign

Credit: SUNSET screenshot

In a milestone event on June 28, the inaugural was presented to Joseph DeMartini, a Ph.D. student in at the . DeMartini received a $10,000 grant from the B612 Foundation's newly established prize named after Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart. This annual award recognizes graduate students who propose innovative strategies for planetary defense.

During a news briefing, Rusty Schweickart highlighted the significance of DeMartini's proposal, stating, “We are now technically able to slightly modify the natural clockwork of the solar system to enhance the survival of Earth life.” He emphasized the challenge ahead for DeMartini and others in his field to detect and monitor objects approaching Earth from the direction of the sun.

DeMartini expressed his gratitude for the prize, noting that beyond financial support, it provides access to a network of individuals and organizations crucial for implementing his proposal. His winning idea involves directing ground-based telescopes toward the sun for approximately an hour before sunrise and after sunset. This approach aims to detect asteroids and comets in Apollo or Atens orbits, which pose the highest risk of impacting Earth.

Explaining the rationale behind his proposal, DeMartini clarified, “In order to see asteroids in the Aten family during any large fraction of their orbit, you would need to be looking in the direction of the sun.” This method addresses the challenge posed by bright sunlight obscuring observations of objects within the inner solar system.

DeMartini's hopes are set on leveraging the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile for a detailed survey of the near-sun region during twilight, supplemented by observations from a network of ground-based observatories at sunrise and sunset. Advances in near-Earth object verification methods would further enhance the characterization of orbits.

The Schweickart Prize, sponsored by prominent figures including Rusty Schweickart himself, aims to encourage innovation in planetary defense strategies. Rusty Schweickart, a co-founder of the B612 Foundation and Apollo 9 astronaut, has long advocated for global efforts to safeguard Earth from potential asteroid impacts.

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