• Alex Marrone

The ATLAS Project

The Asteroid Terrestrial-Impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) is a system that aids with early detection of asteroids. The University of Hawaii and NASA are working to develop and fund this system, respectively. As of now, it consists of two telescopes separated by 100 miles; the project hopes to have six or more observatories in the future. Every night, these telescopes scan the sky for any objects. ATLAS is able to provide a one-day warning for a 30-kiloton asteroid (capable of destroying a town), a week’s warning for a 5-megaton asteroid (capable of destroying a city) and a three week’s warning for 100 megaton asteroids (those capable of destroying entire counties).

The ATLAS works by combining a telescope with a very powerful camera, allowing for a large 7.4° field of view that is capable of scanning 25 percent of the night sky four times a night. The system is able to spot asteroids as bodies that continuously move against the relatively stationary background of stars and galaxies. After four pictures are taken of the same moving object, the ATLAS computer analyzes which of these are asteroids and attempts to identify them with other, already-known asteroids. If the asteroid cannot be identified, the computer attempts to calculate if the asteroid is a main-belt asteroid, which poses no harm. If the asteroid is not a main-belt asteroid, it is classified as a Potentially Hazardous Object (PHO). In the case of a PHO, the first action taken is to alert the Minor Planet Center (MPC). The MPC then sends the collected information to several scientific groups around the world to calculate the impact location and time. The ATLAS does not respond to the potential threats, it is simply the system that detects them.

Thus far, ATLAS has detected 556 Near Earth Asteroids, 58 Potentially Hazardous Objects, 57 Comets and 7821 Supernovae.


Asteroid terrestrial-impact last alert system. (n.d.). Retrieved February 08, 2021, from https://atlas.fallingstar.com/home.php

How it works. (n.d.). Retrieved February 08, 2021, from https://atlas.fallingstar.com/how_atlas_works.php

Impact response. (n.d.). Retrieved February 08, 2021, from https://atlas.fallingstar.com/response.php

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