Romanian researchers contribute to study of 40,000 minor objects in Solar System

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VISTA, the world’s largest survey telescope, is shown in its dome at ESO’s observatory on Cerro Paranal in the deserts of northern Chile. VISTA is an infrared survey telescope and is the world’s largest telescope dedicated to mapping the sky. The telescope’s large mirror, wide field of view and very sensitive camera will reveal a completely new view of the southern sky. VISTA was conceived and developed by a consortium of 18 universities in the United Kingdom led by Queen Mary, University of London and became an in-kind contribution to ESO as part of the UK’s accession agreement.

An international team of astronomers, including researchers with the Romanian Academy’s Astronomic Institute of Bucharest, used the data obtained by the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) of the European Southern Observatory to catalogue 40,000 minor planets of the Solar System, informs a Romanian Space Agency release.

These minor planets with sizes between a few metres and 1,000 kilometers orbit the Sun. Their study provides a new perspective for understanding the formation and evolution of the Solar System, the Romanian Space Agency shows.

So far, over 700,000 such objects are know, among which asteroids, comets and Kuiper Belt objects, which are known to be remains from the formation of the Solar System, some 4.57 billion years ago.

“The study of these objects help us better understand the physical processes of the formation and evolution of the planetary systems. At the same time, a good knowledge and understanding of these minor objects in our Solar System help space exploration and provide important data in determining the probability of the impact of such objects with the Earth,” study coordinator and astronomer with Romanian Academy’s Astronomic Institute of Bucharest Marcel Popescu said.

The researchers team examined the data obtained through the VISTA-VHS observations. Through the careful analysis of the huge amount of observations resulted from the programme, they measured the position and brightness of 40,000 minor objects of the Solar System. It is for the first time that such a high number of objects in the Solar System is catalogued in this spectral area.

The scientific results were published in an article called “Near-infrared colors of minor planets recovered from VISTA – VHS survey (MOVIS)”, in the July 2016 issue of the famous European magazine Astronomy&Astrophysics.

The astronomers team includes researchers with the Romanian Academy’s Astronomic Institute of Bucharest (Marcel Popescu and Alin Nedelcu), the Astrophysics Institute of the Canary Island and Cambridge University’s Astronomy Institute.

The Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) is the biggest instrument used in wide observation programmes. The observation programme this telescope conducts takes pictures of the entire visible sky in the Southern Hemisphere, providing the possibility to catalogue a high number of objects and conducting statistic data. Such programmes are ideal for studying objects such as asteroids and comets.