Doom watch

An automated camera on the lookout for asteroids that might pose a threat to life on Earth is about to start its vigil. The camera, fitted to a 40-centimetre telescope in Arizona’s Santa Catalina Mountains, is the only one looking systematically for asteroids lurking outside the plane of the planets’ orbits. Six years ago, two students at the University of Arizona in Tucson began a manual search on photographic plates taken with the same telescope, and in 1996 they spotted a 200-metre asteroid that missed the Earth by only 450 000 kilometres. Their supervisor, Steve Larson, is now removing the few remaining bugs from an improved automated system. “We’re looking where other people aren’t,
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