Near-miss of Earth underscores need to deal with asteroid threat

Photo of an Asteroid

An asteroid came close to colliding with Earth last week. CC by Lenny Montana/Flickr

Planet Earth barely escaped a collision with two asteroids last week. The latest near-miss was seen as a warning of things to come by those advocating a unified human effort to deflect incoming asteroids. Recent advances in space-based telescopes have made Earthlings more aware of a swarm of asteroids, or “near-earth objects.” NASA is stepping up efforts to locate and track asteroids to learn more about how to deflect a catastrophic event. NASA has been directed by the administration to seek out a way for sending astronauts to explore an asteroid that could be launched as early as 2019.

Earth’s unwanted intimate encounter

Two small asteroids passed through the space between the Earth and moon Wednesday. Donald Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near Earth Network, told CNN that such events happen every day that humans aren’t aware of. But the one-two punch that didn’t land Wednesday was different from most. The pair of cosmic boulders were spotted days earlier and watched closely. During its customary rounds the morning of Sept. 5, NASA said the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Ariz., detected the approaching asteroid threat. Yeomans told CNN Earth needs more, larger telescopes to track objects that come so close. Until efforts to identify near-earth objects increased during the 1990s, he said people on earth didn’t fully understand the consequences.

Asteroid nightmare imagined on video

A unified global response to the asteroid threat is imperative to the survival of civilization, according to the Association of Space Explorers. Canadian astronaut and ASE president Chris Hadfield told the Toronto Star that Earth is “rolling the dice that the big one is not coming right away.” The ASE presented a study on killer asteroids to the United Nations in 2008. It outlined the severity of the threat and offered prevention options. Current technology is up to the task of deflecting an asteroid from the Earth’s path, according to the report. The most plausible method would be to crash a probe into the asteroid. The impact could check its velocity enough to make the asteroid late in arriving at the point where it would intersect the Earth’s path. To be successful, the mission would need to be planned anywhere from 10 to 18 years prior to the projected impact.

NASA aims to send astronauts to asteroid

A manned mission to an asteroid by 2025 is being studied. NASA’s effort is a response to orders from the president that redirects the objectives of the U.S. space program away from its focus on the moon. Even though politicians have been warned of the danger posed by asteroids, the Houston Chronicle reports that many in Congress would rather relive the glory of the Apollo moon landings that happened 40 years ago. However, the company charged with building the new Orion spacecraft, Lockheed Martin, is already planning an asteroid mission it says could launch by 2019. The adventure would be a fact-finding mission. The data collected would be used to gain a better understanding of how to avoid a potential asteroid impact.

Sources

CNN

Toronto Star

Houston Chronicle

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