Amateur radio operators around the world heard a science facility in Alaska “chirping” an asteroid.
On Twitter, amateur radio users posted audio and video of a Tuesday experiment from the High Frequency Northern Lights Active Search Program, or HAARP. This research center is a project of the University of Alaska and is located about a four-hour drive northeast of Anchorage, near a place called Gakona. From this remote location, home to just 169 people, HAARP made contact with an asteroid.
By triggering a “chirp” radio signal at two-second intervals, astronomers with HAARP sought to learn more about the interior of asteroid 2010 XC15. It is an asteroid of the Aten family, a class of near-Earth asteroids (NEA) that crosses our planet’s orbit but mostly lies closer to the Sun. Although the 2010 XC15 poses no risk to Earth, HAARP wanted to know more about the interior of this rock. The information could show at what wavelength radio signals can probe the interior of an asteroid, which can improve models of rocks that could be dangerous. In 2029, with preparations underway, HAARP will observe a more concerning asteroid named Apophis.
Radio amateurs around the world listened to Tuesday’s experiment from HAARP, which transmitted a signal to the asteroid at 9.6 megahertz. Images and videos posted by users can be found on Twitter with the hashtag #UAFHAARP.
This was the first use of HAARP to probe an asteroid, the University of Alaska Fairbanks said in a Dec. 21 announcement.
“What’s new and what we’re trying to do is probe the interiors of asteroids with long-wavelength radar and radio telescopes from the ground,” said HAARP principal investigator Mark Haynes and a radar systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, in the statement. . “Longer wavelengths can penetrate the interior of an object much better than the radio wavelengths used for communication.”
The statement goes on to say that this approach contrasts with existing radar imaging programs, where astronomers bounce short wavelengths off an asteroid and uncover its surface.
The idea is that having a full view of an asteroid will lead to more robust models of how to deflect one. NASA launched a spacecraft into the small moon of the asteroid Didymos in September and altered its motion, marking the first time humanity had intentionally changed a space object’s orbit.
HAARP may be the way to go for tackling the bigger rocks. The moon, Dimorphos, was 525 feet across, just slightly larger than HAARP’s target. Apophis, however, is twice as large.