The first step in the asteroid capture process is choosing the right target. To help with this, NASA is building a space-based telescope that will use an infrared sensor to improve detection and tracking capabilities.
Asteroids reflect visible light, which is how we find them. Odd and irregular shapes create varying degrees of reflectivity. A small, light-colored space rock might be very reflective, and thus can look the same as a big, dark one. As a result, data collected with optical telescopes using visible light can be deceiving.
An infrared sensor, called the NEOCam chip (right), is the critical piece of technology for the new Near Earth Object Camera. The NEOCam will be used to support future missions designed to protect Earth from potentially hazardous asteroids lurking in the Near-Earth sphere -- within 28 million miles of Earth's path around the sun.