The Vera Rubin’s Keen Eye On Our Solar System Will Inspire Future Missions

View of Rubin Observatory at sunset in December 2023. The 8.4-meter telescope at Rubin Observatory, equipped with the highest-resolution digital camera in the world, will take enormous images of the southern hemisphere sky, covering the entire sky every few nights. Rubin will do this over and over for 10 years, creating a timelapse view of the Universe that’s unlike anything we’ve seen before. What new Solar System exploration missions will of these observations inspire? Image Credit: RubinObs/NSF/AURA/H. Stockebrand

When the interstellar object (ISO) Oumuamua appeared in our Solar System in 2017, it generated a ton of interest. The urge to learn more about it was fierce, but unfortunately, there was no way to really do so. It came and went, and we were left to ponder what it was made of and where it came from. Then, in 2019, the ISO comet Borisov came for a brief visit, and again, we were left to wonder about it.

There’s bound to be more of these ISOs traversing our Solar System. There’s been talk of having missions ready to go to visit one of these interstellar visitors in the future, but for that to happen, we need advance notice of its arrival. Could the Vera Rubin Observatory tell us far enough in advance?

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Space Junk is Going to be a Problem for Vera Rubin

Space junk could be a problem for the Vera C. Rubin Observatory. Even tiny chunks of debris could create streaks in its images. Image Credit: Rubin Observatory/NSF/AURA/B. Quint

The Vera Rubin Observatory (VRO) is different than other large telescopes, and that difference makes it more vulnerable to space junk. Other telescopes, like the Giant Magellan Telescope and the European Extremely Large Telescope, focus on distant objects. But the VRO’s job is to repeatedly image the entire available night sky for ten years, spotting transients and variable objects.

All that space junk can look like transient events, impairing the VRO’s vision and polluting its results.

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Vera Rubin Will Find Binary Supermassive Black Holes. Here’s How.

This image is from a simulation of two merging black holes. The upcoming Vera Rubin Observatory should be able to detect binary black holes before they merge. But the vexing problem of false positives needs a solution. Image Credit: Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) Project

When galaxies merge, we expect them to produce binary black holes (BBHs.) BBHs orbit one another closely, and when they merge, they produce gravitational waves that have been detected by LIGO-Virgo. The upcoming Vera Rubin Observatory should be able to find them before they merge, which would open a whole new window into the study of galaxy mergers, supermassive black holes, binary black holes, and gravitational waves.

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