Asteroid Threat Early-Warning System Being Developed By Scientists

An asteroid nearly blew Earth up last week! Okay, maybe not, but Asteroid 2012 DA14 did fly by Earth with just 17,200 miles to spare, and an asteroid’s fragments did in fact hit Russia causing destruction and injuries. With more potentially dangerous space rocks prepared to hurl towards Earth in the future, scientists are now working on an asteroid threat early-warning system.

The system is being developed by a team of astronomers at the University of Hawaii, and, when complete, it will help detect asteroids and offer some type of early warning.

Scientists expect the asteroid early-warning system to be completed in 2015. The system known as the Asteroid Terrestrial-Impact Last Alert System (or ATLAS) will include eight small telescopes that are each equipped with up to 100 megapixels in resolution. The camera’s will work with fixed mount telescopes on one or two Hawaiian Islands.

The system is expected to provide a one-week warning window for an asteroid of 50-yards in size. An asteroid of that size would be large enough to destroy an entire city. The system is also planned to detect asteroids of 150-yards in size within a three-week time frame. An asteroid of that size could wipe out an entire country.

University of Hawaii astronomer John Tonry says of the systems time frame:

“That’s enough time to evacuate the area of people, take measures to protect buildings and other infrastructure, and be alert to a tsunami danger generated by ocean impacts.”

ATLAS telescopes will scan the visible sky twice a night in search of faint objects that could potentially represent dangerous and life threatening asteroids.

ATLAS will receive $5 million over the next five years from NASA’s Near Earth Observation Program.

When not detecting asteroids, ATLAS will hunt down dwarf planets, supernova explosions, and other distant objects in the cosmos.