With twinkling eyes he explains the complicated process of identifying an asteroid. “You have to scan the sky,” he says. “We then make four positions of how the asteroid moves and follow up on its movements. Nearly all our work is to do with asteroids, but we also discovered a number of extra-galactic supernovas - the first in Europe to do so,” he says proudly.
Asteroids, he explains, are a threat. They are essentially minor planets which have not yet built up to become a planet themselves and there are millions of them between Mars and Jupiter. Some are just a little too close for comfort to us here on Earth. A few even cross Earth’s orbital path, which spells danger for our planet. If we were to collide with one of them it could be devastating to life on Earth. “We must watch them,” warns Preuss. Sanchez agrees and has made that his life’s work. But there is a benefit to them too. Some asteroids are quite literally floating gold and platinum mines. Some companies, Preuss explains, are being set up with an aim to catch asteroids and mine them for their resources. In 40 or 50 years, says Preuss, those companies will be richer than any company in the world. Asteroids could make perfect space stations too. “They could be the future for space travel,” he says.
Sanchez picks up on Preuss’s point. “The closest asteroid to us, the one that passes the Earth, is only 20,000 km away. We call it the Duende asteroid. It was named and discovered here.” The naming of any space object is a complicated process, Sanchez explains. First, of course, you have to discover it. Then you give it a number and report it to the International Astronomy Union (IAU). A strict protocol is then followed to verify it. Then it can at last be given a name. In 2008, Sanchez was able to name an asteroid which the centre identified in 2003. It was named in honour of Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal.