NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine thinks it’s time to start taking the threat of an Earth-altering asteroid impact seriously. In a speech today at the International Academy of Astronautics Planetary Defense Conference, Bridenstine opened his keynote with a warning about what’s to come.
“We have to make sure that people understand that this is not about Hollywood, it’s not about movies,” he said. “This is about ultimately protecting the only planet we know, right now, to host life and that is the planet Earth.”
Bridenstine acknowledged that a large asteroid colliding with Earth is met with a sort of “giggle factor,” a false sense of security brought on by countless Hollywood films that have perhaps desensitized us to the carnage it would cause. But you don’t have to look far to see the kind of damage an asteroid collision creates.
In 2013, a 20 meter (65 foot) meteor exploded over the city of Chelyabinsk. Traveling more than 18 kilometers per second (11 miles per second), the meteor exploded some 23 kilometers (14 miles) above the Earth’s surface, according to NASA. But it still wreaked major havoc. The meteor reportedly damaged thousands of buildings and sent more than 1,500 people to the hospital — most from the debris caused by the shockwave.
“These events are not rare; they happen,” Bridenstine noted. And according to one model, we should expect a similar collision once every 60 years.
The 20th century featured three such impacts: one in Tunguska, Russia, in 1908, and another in Brazil in 1930. The Tunguska event leveled more than 2,000 square kilometers, but caused no human casualties.
But NASA is working on a fix. Currently, the agency has an ambitious goal of tracking 90 percent of asteroids 140 meters and larger — an asteroid large enough to wipe out a small country. And while meteors lose a significant portion of their mass upon entering our atmosphere, it’s worth noting that the rock responsible for the Russian event in 2013 was merely 20 meters, or one-seventh the size of those NASA is tracking.
Perhaps Elon Musk, and SpaceX can help. NASA recently announced it had contracted SpaceX, paying the company $69 million to help solve the problem. In its first joint mission, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), SpaceX will send a rocket on a collision course with a near-Earth object, an asteroid in this case.
If successful, the rocket will steer the object away from Earth.
It’s also worth noting that NASA doesn’t seem to know what to make of this. It’s been incredibly inconsistent in its predictions, with its Jet Propulsion Laboratory seemingly taking a contrarian view to Bridenstine’s:
NASA knows of no asteroid or comet currently on a collision course with Earth, so the probability of a major collision is quite small. In fact, as best as we can tell, no large object is likely to strike the Earth any time in the next several hundred years.
A bulk of these stories are generally minor warnings that sound alarm bells for members of the press who don’t understand them in the same way astronomers do. The asteroid 1999 RQ36, for example, made headlines after models showed it could hit our planet by 2182. NASA, however, says it’s still too early to make these kinds of predictions about an asteroid’s orbital path.
So, maybe we hold off on that Armageddon sequel, just for now?
But, if you’re really worried about a cataclysmic event, you can check out NASA’s “Sentry: Earth Impact Monitoring” webpage to see which known asteroids have the highest probability of colliding with Earth.
Or if you’re really wanting to go down the rabbit hole, here’s a training exercisethat gives you a peek behind the curtain in how NASA would observe and respond to an imminent collision, based on hypothetical simulations. How’s that for specific?
If you’re interested in learning more about how technology is solving some of mankind’s biggest problems, check out the Future Generations track at TNW Conference.
The Next Web
By Guest Nicole
‘This is our first opportunity to really take a close-up look at the king of our solar system,’ says a leading investigator
An artist's conception of Juno - who has three Lego "passengers" on board - approaching Jupiter's swirling gaseous clouds Nasa/JPL-Caltech
Juno, the spacecraft on a mission to Jupiter, orbited closer to the giant planet than any man-made object before it, in a record-breaking approach on Saturday.
The Nasa creation, which was launched five years ago, made the close approach to Jupiter by soaring around 2,600 miles above the planet.
As it cruised by at a speed of 130,000 mph, Juno was expected to capture astonishing images and plenty of scientific data, say mission controllers at Nasa.
The probe was said to have reached its closest point at 1.51pm – following the spacecraft’s dizzying flight path which involved escaping Earth’s orbit and moving into Jupiter’s.
Scott Bolton, a principle investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio in Texas, said Juno would have its whole suite of nine instruments activated as it soars above Jupiter’s swirling cloud tops. The instruments had previously been switched off so as to survive the entry into the planet’s dangerous radiation belts.
"This is the first time we will be close to Jupiter since we entered orbit on 4 July. Back then we turned all our instruments off to focus on the rocket burn to get Juno into orbit around Jupiter," said Dr Bolton.
"Since then, we have checked Juno from stem to stern and back again. We still have more testing to do, but we are confident that everything is working great, so for this upcoming flyby Juno’s eyes and ears, our science instruments, will all be open.
"This is our first opportunity to really take a close-up look at the king of our solar system and begin to figure out how he works."
Nasa space agents have said they hope to release some of the first detailed pictures of Jupiter's north and south poles. It could take some days for the images to be downloaded on Earth.
Scientists are also anticipating a wealth of data about Jupiter's composition, gravity, magnetic field, and the source of its 384 mph winds.
A British team from the University of Leicester are playing a key role in the mission by focusing on the planet’s magnetic field, its auroras and atmosphere.
There are also some "passengers" onboard the spacecraft, which is powered by three enormous solar panels. These are titanium-built Lego figures of 17th century astronomer Galileo Galilei, the Roman goddess Juno and her husband the Roman god Jupiter.
Scientists celebrate in Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as the solar-powered Juno spacecraft goes into orbit around Jupiter (AP
It took five years to complete the 1.8 billion-mile journey from Earth, including a trek through circuit-frazzling radiation that requires its flight computer to be armoured in a titanium vault weighing almost 400 lb.
At the end of its 20-month mission, Juno will self-destruct by plunging into Jupiter’s dense atmosphere.
The craft is part of Nasa’s New Frontiers programme of robotic space missions which last year saw the New Horizons craft obtain close-up views of dwarf planet Pluto.
By Guest Nicole