Scientists Call For Major Push To Create Global Killer Asteroid Detection System; Major, Global Effort Needed To Hunt/Track Potential Planet-Killing Asteroids

Scientists Call For Major Push To Create Global Killer Asteroid Detection System; Major, Global Effort Needed To Hunt And Track Potential Planet-Killing Asteroids

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Sara Knapton, Science Editor for London’s The Telegraph, writes in the December 4, 2014 edition of the newspaper that 100 leading scientists and astronomers are warning that “unless [much] more effort is made to hunt and track killer asteroids — we are at risk of a potential existential threat. Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Brian Cox, and Richard Dawkins were among more than 100 experts calling for a major push to create a global “killer” asteroid detection system — to prevent a doomsday scenario for planet Earth.

“At an event at London’s Science Museum Wednesday night,” Ms. Knapton writes, “Lord Rees read a declaration resolving to “solve humanity’s greatest challenges to safeguard our families and quality of life on Earth and the future.” “The declaration,” she adds, “calls for governments to come together to employ all available technology to track near-Earth asteroids; as well as the global adoption of Asteroid Day on June 30, 2015 — the anniversary of the asteroid impact at Tunguska, Siberia — which destroyed 800 square miles in 1908.”

Lord Rees said: “The ancients were correct in their belief that the heavens and the motion of astronomical bodies affect life on Earth. Sometimes those heavenly bodies run into Earth. This is why we must make it our mission to find asteroids — before they find us. Ms. Knapton notes that the declaration has been signed by scientists, physicists, astronauts, and cosmonauts.” “Systems are already in place to track large asteroids; but, recent research suggests that ‘rocks’ as small as 164 feet across…would still be big enough to cause devastating results on Earth.”

“NASA has done a very good job of finding the very largest objects, the ones that would destroy the human race,” said Ed Lu, an astronaut who flew three trips to the International Space Station. “It’s the ones that would destroy a city; or, hit an economy for a couple of hundred years that are the problem.” Dr. Brian May, an astrophysicist and guitarist from Queen said, “the more we learn about asteroid impacts, the clearer it becomes that the human race has been living on borrowed time. We are currently aware of less than one percent of the objects comparable to the one that impacted at Tunguska, and nobody knows when the next big one will hit. It just takes one.”

“We have the technology to deflect dangerous asteroids through kinetic impactors and gravity tractors; but, only if we have years of advance warning of their trajectories,” said Dr. Ed Lu, three-time space shuttle astronaut for NASA. “Now, we need the resolve to go forward….it is the only natural disaster we know how to prevent.”

“Finding hazardous asteroids early through an accelerated search program is the key to preventing the future destructive impacts,” said Dr. Tom Jones, veteran shuttle astronaut, planetary scientist, and chairman of the Association of Space Explorers’ (ASE) Committee on Near-Earth objects.

“The 100X Declaration will focus space policymakers on that important goal,” Ms. Knapton wrote. She adds that ASE — last year — called for a stepped-up, global search effort,” that would hopefully “lead within a decade to an international deflection demonstration mission…to show we know how to nudge an asteroid.” and away from a trajectory that would result in impact with the Earth.

To Protect Earth From Killer Asteroids, Humanity Must Take The Long View

Mike Wall, senior writer for Space.com, wrote March 17, 2014, that “earth has been pummeled by asteroids and comets continuously over the eons, sometimes with catastrophic results. A strike by a 6-mile wide (10 kilometers) body for example, wiped out the dinosaurs 65M years ago.” He warns, “the danger from above will never disappear. Scientists think that 1M, or more asteroids cruise through space in Earth’s neighborhood; and, some of these rocks doubtless have our planet in their crosshairs. Adding to this threat,” Mr. Wall writes, “is the fact that so far, scientists have only identified and tracked just 10,700 or so, of these near-Earth asteroids.”

“There is some good news,” Mr. Wall contends. “About 95 percent of the 980 potential, civilization-enders — rocks at least 0.6 miles (1km) wide — have been found; and, none of them pose a threat to Earth in the near future. But. that still leaves many thousands of unseen, unknown asteroids that could devastate an area the size of a state if they hit Earth. The world got a reminder of the potential danger on Feb. 15, 2013, when a 65ft.-wide (20 meters) object exploded without warning over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, injuring about 1,500 people.”

But, Mr. Wall agrees with the NASA scientists and others referred to earlier above. He notes, “that given decades” of advance warning, “we could launch a robotic probe to rendezvous with; and. fly alongside a threatening space rock, nudging it off course via a subtle — but, constant gravitational hug.” The recent landing of the European space probe Rosetta on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, also is a promising achievement and demonstrates that we have the technology and capability to actually land an object on an asteroid or comet — potentially carrying a nuclear weapon or some other kinetic device that would be capable of diverting a potential catastrophic collision course with planet Earth.

But, as was demonstrated by the Rosetta landing, these kind of mission occurred only after years of hard work and experimentation to eventually prove it was possible to actually land on a comet. “If an asteroid popped up with only a month or so of notice/warning, — we might be able to hit it with a nuclear weapon.” But, ideally, “the technologies that you need — must be available when you need them,” said Bill Ailor, Principal Engineer with the Orbital and Re-Entry Debris Studies at the Aerospace Corporation. “For example,” Mr. Alior added, “if you’ve got about five years out, that’s not very much time to go off and develop new techniques.”

“We might not need to do this for 100 years, or something, but sometime we will need to do it,” Dr. Alior said. “So how do you maintain the capabilities and the technologies available over a long period of time to do a mission which may not occur for years or decades? That will be a challenge as well,” he concluded.

Yes indeed. We always seem to kick the can down the road until there isn’t even any road left. I am skeptical we’ll be able to orchestrate a global effort, on the scale and timeframe needed — without some kind of scare or wake-up call. I also wonder if we can — if we aren’t already — crowdsourcing the requirement to look into the heavens and try and find more of these potential planet-killing asteroids. It seems to me — with the worldwide web; and, the proliferation of fairly sophisticated telescopes — even for the amateur astronomer — that we need to find creative ways to tap into that resource — cheaply — and perhaps significantly enhance our space situational awareness regarding these potential existential threats. V/R, RCP

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