If a killer asteroid struck the Earth, humanity could be devastated, but a new groundbreaking three-dimensional map of the Milky Way galaxy could help astronomers spot incoming space rocks before they become a threat.
The European Space Agency (ESA) just released the first star chart from Gaia, a space-based observatory that’s on a mission to map the location of a billion stars, asteroids, and near-Earth objects.
Gaia’s mission is to plot the position of distant stars, giving astronomers the most detailed 3-D map of the Milky Way galaxy ever made. It will also track the location of comets, asteroids, and other near-Earth objects that could potentially collide with our planet, according to ESA’s Director of Science Alvaro Giménez.
“Gaia is at the forefront of astrometry, charting the sky at precisions that have never been achieved before.”
That’s good news for Earthlings because our planet is vulnerable to a killer asteroid strike that could hit our planet and potentially wipe out humanity, as President Barack Obama’s chief science adviser told Space.com.
“We are not fully prepared, but we are on a trajectory to get much more so.”
See the amazing interactive 3-D star chart for yourself.
While discussing NASA’s planned Asteroid Redirect Mission, John Holdren, the director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, told reporters that passing space rocks still pose the biggest threat to Earth, reports Space.com.
“If we are going to be as capable a civilization as our technology allows, we need to be prepared for even those rare events, because they could do a lot of damage to the Earth.
“This is a hazard that, 65 million years ago, the dinosaurs succumbed to. We have to be smarter than the dinosaurs.”
He’s not the only one concerned about falling space rocks; Stephen Hawking once called the possibility of an asteroid strike the biggest threat facing humanity and not without cause.
Last month, an asteroid whizzed by Earth, passing between our planet and the moon, mere hours after astronomers spotted it for the first time. Then, two weeks later, another passing space rock came barreling past our planet with almost no warning.
In 2013, a previously undiscovered asteroid entered the Earth’s atmosphere and exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk injuring about 1,200 people and causing thousands of dollars in damage.
NASA has been tracking all the near-Earth objects it can find, and the space agency thinks it’s spotted 90 percent of the space rocks threatening our planet larger than half a mile wide, the minimum size need to threaten humanity.
The space agency admits, however, there are still more undiscovered asteroids whizzing nearby our planet.
That’s where Europe’s Gaia mission comes in. Launched in 2013 aboard a Soyuz rocket from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana, the space-based observatory is equipped with two telescopes and the largest camera ever flown in space.
When the spacecraft spots an interstellar object that’s never been seen before, it will alert ground-based telescopes on Earth so they can take a closer look and decide if it’s a threat to the planet.
One thousand days after it launched, September 14, 2016, the space probe sent back its first star chart mapping the Milky Way galaxy, according to Gimenez.
“Today’s release gives us a first impression of the extraordinary data that await us and that will revolutionize our understanding of how stars are distributed and move across our Galaxy.”
Gaia will do more than just spot incoming space rocks; it’s also designed to spot alien planets, map dark matter, and give us a greater understanding of our universe.
What do you think of Gaia’s mission to map the Milky Way galaxy?
[Featured Image by NASA/AP Images]