International Asteroid Day: From astroinformatics to space mining

Today we celebrate a rather peculiar day: the international asteroid day. There are not a few of us who come across images of the Tyrannosaurus Rex and his amazing companions going extinct or that of Bruce Willis or Leonardo DiCaprio trying to save the planet (successfully or unsuccessfully) or even Han Solo and Chewbacca escaping from the imperial troops by hiding in them . Thus, nothing seems more strange than celebrating these wandering bodies as if we were missing dangers and threats to identify. However, while asteroids can indeed cause major cataclysms, They also play an incredible role, which is to bring materials and especially news from beyondnews that we can receive from Chile in a privileged way.

The Foundation data observatory, a key initiative of the National Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation Policy, through the ALeRCE project, became a participant in the global capabilities associated with the Asteroid Terrestrial Warning and Monitoring System (ATLAS), a project co-financed by Nasa along with other institutions. Thus, thanks to advanced artificial intelligence and data engineering techniques, it is possible for the first time to process large images from different telescopes located in Hawaii, Chile and South Africa, for each night observe the sky and generate alerts and reports on the movement of asteroids.

Chilean engineers and astronomers installing the ATLAS telescope at the El Sauce Observatory

The foregoing is undoubtedly another relevant milestone in our country in world astronomy, this time not only thanks to our geography, but also to the opportunity to take advantage of the interaction of multiple disciplines such as data science, statistics and engineering at the service of The humanity. But perhaps this is not the only source of national pride around asteroids. Given its richness in special metals or rare earths such as iridium, palladium or nickel, among others, more and more space companies and agencies are looking with real interest at the possibility of extracting these materials from asteroids and not so much from Earth.

Along these lines, during 2019 the Japanese mission Hayabusa 2 demonstrated that it is possible to land on an asteroid and extract samples from it. And although there are still many technological developments to imagine an economically profitable productive activity, the growing needs of society together with the obligation to care for the Earth, make it not unimaginable that in the not too distant future, space mining will be a reality. , in which Chile, a country with a mining heart, hopefully participates. For now, we already have a very ambitious space program that we hope also includes that look.

*Executive director (i) foundation data observatory and academic Faculty of Engineering and Sciences UAI.

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