Scientists agree the Earth is vulnerable to killer asteroids, and although NASA has identified thousands of the dangerous space rocks, there hasn’t been a way to notify the public of an impending collision until now.
The Minor Planet Center, the NASA-funded organization responsible for tracking asteroids, comets, and other near-Earth objects, now has a news service dedicated to releasing information on dangerous space rocks.
Dubbed the Daily Minor Planet, the news service is dedicated to educating the public on the latest asteroid facts, said Matt Holman, astronomer and director of the Minor Planet Center.
“Most people don’t realize how common asteroid flybys are. We want the Daily Minor Planet to educate readers in an entertaining way, so the next time they see a doom-and-gloom asteroid headline, they’ll know where to go to find the facts.”
The name of the asteroid news service comes from a mashup of Clark Kent’s newspaper in Superman, the Daily Planet, with the names of asteroids and celestial objects.
Almost every day the Earth is threatened with an asteroid collision, and on those days the Daily Minor Planet will publish information on the passing space rock including its name and distance to our planet. When there’s no imminent threat, the news service will feature a newly discovered asteroid.
The planet was forced to acknowledge the danger of falling space rocks in 2013 when a previously undiscovered asteroid exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk injuring 1,000 people.
Russia responded by cobbling together an untested planetary defense system made from Cold War-era ICBMs the country plans to fire off at incoming asteroids.
How will I return my sample of asteroid Bennu? 7 years from today, my Sample Return Capsule will carry it safely through Earth's atmosphere. pic.twitter.com/waPc3AEcQe— OSIRIS-REx (@OSIRISREx) September 24, 2016
An international group of scientists led by astrophysicist and Queen guitarist Dr. Brian May, along with Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart, responded by creating Asteroid Day.
Asteroid Day is celebrated every year on June 30, the day of the largest asteroid impact in modern history, the Tunguska event. In 1908 a space rock believed to measure almost 330 feet wide exploded over a Siberian forest, destroying more than 1,200 square miles with an explosive force 185 greater than the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima during WWII, former astronaut Dr. Thomas Jones told the Observer.
“Big answer, big picture is we are 100 percent positive Earth is going to be struck again by an asteroid, and those range from small to large. If we do nothing, we are bound to be hit eventually by an asteroid that is damaging enough to destroy civilization.”
An asteroid would need to measure at least half a mile in diameter to threaten the future of mankind, but even a small space rock could do considerable damage if it managed to strike the Earth, Jones told the Observer.
“The largest hazard remaining is the smaller ones, those that are about 100 to 150 meters across, and those could do regional damage. One could destroy several states in the U.S. for example.”
NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office is responsible for notifying the president and managing FEMA’s response to any asteroid emergency.
There are currently only a few ways to protect the Earth from falling space rocks, not including the untested Russian idea of shooting nuclear missiles at them. One idea is a gravity tractor where a spacecraft flies over an asteroid and the mutual gravity between the two objects gradually moves the dangerous space rock away from its collision course over several months.
A more popular theory, the impact deflection method, basically involves shooting an object at the asteroid at such a high speed the velocity changes the speed of the space rock and makes it miss its appointment with Earth.
Another possible deflection method involves shooting lasers at the incoming asteroid to vaporize part of it; the destruction of the rocks moves the asteroid off its collision course.
[Featured Image by RomoloTavani/iStock]