Asteroid Watch

ORBITAL MANEUVERS is about a space shuttle’s crew’s struggle to survive a catastrophic asteroid impact on the Earth.  NASA has been monitoring near earth objects (NEO) for many years at varying levels of intensity and funding.  Recently though, it has come to light that with current funding levels available to NASA they will not meet the 2005 Congressional mandated goal of cataloging 90% of all NEO bigger than 460 feet across by 2020. They are on track with monitoring objects .6 miles across and have recorded over 11,000 objects of all sizes.

Consider that the size of Meteor Crater in Arizona is a mile wide, and was caused by an asteroid only 150 feet across – it would have wiped New York City off the face of the globe!  An object 460 feet across is going to be even more devastating – impact energy is 100 times more with a crater almost 2.5 miles in diameter.  The other disturbing statistic is that there are many more smaller asteroids out there than larger ones, so the odds of getting hit are that much greater.  Couple that with the fact that Jupiter just got hit by something big in July, which has the scientific community buzzing that statistically that should not have happened only 15 years after comet Shoemaker-Levy impacted the planet, and you should be getting the picture that there is a lot out there we don’t know about.  Limiting our search to objects 460 feet across can just give us a false sense of security, and leaning on statistics to determine how long we have before the next big one can be very misleading – and deadly.  What is the price tag going to be to pick up the pieces after an impact of a rock 300 feet across on a larger metropolitan center?  I’m sure it will be orders of magnitude larger than funding a comprehensive survey of all Earth crossing objects in our solar system down to the limit of our technology.  Which, I might add, should be an international effort.

With all that being said, NASA has a great site for learning about asteroids – Asteroid Watch.  Another related site that has a tremendous amount of information on NEO’s is the Near Earth Object Program from JPL/NASA.   Both of these sites are worth a look to help one understand just what might be out there and what we know about what has been cataloged.  Education is the key!

Till next time,

RC Davison

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