from the home-home-on-lagrange dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Launched on October 25, 2006, NASA's twin Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft are about to enter the L4 and L5 Lagrangian points, special points in our orbit around which spacecraft and other objects can loiter because the gravitational pull of earth and the sun balances the forces from the object's orbital motion. (The spacecraft won't linger at the Lagrangian points; they are just passing through.) 'These places may hold small asteroids, which could be leftovers from a Mars-sized planet that formed billions of years ago,' said NASA Project Scientist Michael Kaiser. STEREO will look for asteroids with a wide-field-of-view telescope. 'If we discover the asteroids have the same composition as the Earth and moon, it will support Belbruno and Gott's version of the giant impact theory. The asteroids themselves could well be left-over from the formation of the solar system.' L4 and L5 are also good places to observe space weather. 'With both the sun and Earth in view, we could track solar storms and watch them evolve as they move toward Earth. Also, since we could see sides of the sun not visible from Earth, we would have a few days warning before stormy regions on the solar surface rotate to become directed at Earth,' says Kaiser."