You may have heard that yesterday (Wednesday, March 5) an asteroid passed within 217,000 miles of the earth (less than our distance from the moon). It was “relatively small”, 45-130 ft. in diameter, but that could still have done catastrophic damage to a populated area.
And what about last year (February 15, 2013) when Asteroid DA14 passed within 17,200 miles of the earth (closer than our communication satellites orbit)?
And on that very same day, a well photographed asteroid exploded over Chelyabinsk in Siberia, the shock wave injuring over a thousand people.
Believe it or not, it was a pure co-incidence that the Chelyabinsk meteor (asteroid) occurred on the same day as the well predicted DA14. BUT THIS ONE WAS NOT PREDICTED.
There are many other well documented asteroids, such as the one that created Meteor Crater, Arizona 50,000 years ago, and one that exploded over Tungusta in Siberia in 1908 flattening 830 square miles of trees.
It is widely accepted that an asteroid impact caused the extinction of the dinosaurs and 70% of the species on Earth 65 million years ago.
Take one look at the “Near Earth Asteroids” section at the bottom of Spaceweather.com's page, and it will scare you! Click “back” on your browser to return to this page.
Even if one crashed into the ocean, can you imagine the tsunami it would create?
So you think there's some rocket ship sitting on the launching pad at the Kennedy Space Center ready to save us from a likely disaster? There is not. But there are former astronauts who are trying to do something about it.
While NASA (working with astronomers around the world) has a pretty good program for spotting many asteroids, they are not all discovered in advance, including the Chelyabinsk meteor/asteroid last year.
Why? The Chelyabinsk asteroid came from the direction of the sun, not allowing earth based telescopes to see it.
NASA astronauts Rusty Schweickart, Ed Lu, Piet Hut, and Clark Chapman started The B612 Foundation in order to privately fund a telescope to be launched into space that will orbit the Earth in a path similar to Venus. This will position the spacecraft with the sun behind it, allowing it to monitor Earth effectively. It will be called Sentinel, and is projected to be launched in 2018.
So what will we do if one day we detect one that will strike earth?
Trying to blow the asteroid up might not be the best idea. Where will all the pieces go? Could they still threaten Earth?
The more logical approach is to try to change the path of the asteroid to one that is going to miss the earth. This could be done by a smaller impact that nudges the asteroid off its course.
Astronauts Ed Lu and Stan Love invented what they call a “Gravity Tractor”, which would use a spacecraft's own gravitational pull with the asteroid to slowly pull it off course.
Both of these methods will take time, and the spacecraft would have to be launched many years in advance.
Ed Lu says that if we are not detecting an asteroid that is on its way to Earth right now, we are losing valuable time. That's why he believes in B612's project.
Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickert says of the non profit foundation “We're not doing this to make money, but we're doing this to extend the domain of life on Earth”.
So what about that rocket ship that needs to be sitting near the launching pad, ready to take action? We, as citizens, need to remind our elected officials of this priority.
PLEASE TAKE THE TIME TO WATCH THIS VERY WELL DONE DOCUMENTARY BY NOVA AND PBS: