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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Killer Asteroids

Robert Reich notes a new report from NASA that "some 100,000 asteroids and comets routinely pass between the Sun and the Earth's orbit. About 20,000 of these orbit close enough to us that they could one day hit the Earth and destroy a major city." Here's more:

Deep Impact A new NASA report on killer asteroids ought to spook people into action, by Robert B. Reich, American Prospect: According to a new report from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, ... over a thousand ...[asteroids] are large enough (almost a mile wide in diameter) and their orbits close enough to us as to pose a real potential hazard of crashing into the Earth with enough force to end most life on this planet. ...

Congress has given NASA a budget of a little over $4 million a year to track these killer asteroids, but NASA says it needs at least a billion dollars more to find all of them by the year 2020. ... All of which raises at least three pertinent questions.

First, if we're spending over a billion dollars a day in Iraq, why can't we bring the troops home a few days earlier and use the savings to track killer asteroids that might end life on earth?

Second, since we're talking about the survival of most living things and not just Americans, why shouldn't we expect other nations to kick in some money, too...?

And third, once NASA knows for sure that a killer asteroid is heading directly for us, how exactly are we supposed to get ourselves out of its way, or it out of our way -- and how much should we be budgeting to accomplish this?

I wouldn't mind having more eyes on the sky and a plan - just in case:

Asteroid and Comet Impact Hazards, NASA: ... How can we protect ourselves?

NEO [Near Earth Object] impacts are the only major natural hazard that we can effectively protect ourselves against, by deflecting (or destroying) the NEO before it hits the Earth. The first step in any program of planetary defense is to find the NEOs; we can't protect against something we don't know exists. We also need a long warning time, at least a decade, to send spacecraft to intercept the object and deflect it. Many defensive schemes have been studied in a preliminary way, but none in detail. In the absence of active defense, warning of the time and place of an impact would at least allow us to store food and supplies and to evacuate regions near ground zero where damage would be the greatest.

What is the government doing about it?

The US Congress held hearings to investigate the impact hazard in 1993, 1998, and 2002, and both NASA and the US Air Force are supporting surveys to discover NEOs. ... In 1998 NASA ... created a NEO Program Office, and today $3-4 million per year is being spent on NASA-supported NEO searches and orbit calculations. ...

    Posted by on Thursday, March 29, 2007 at 06:03 PM in Economics, Science | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (13)


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