Sunday, February 17, 2013

Asteroids Getting Attention After Friday Encounters

P. Chodas (NASA/JPL) (Click on image for enlarged view.)

The topic of asteroids encountering the Earth have suddenly received plenty of media and public attention following Friday's explosion of a large meteor over Russia, injuring over a thousand people and causing significant property damage, and the previously expected close flyby of the larger asteroid 2012 DA14, later that afternoon. The two objects approached Earth from different directions so they are not directly related. However, both objects were rocks moving in space, so the Russian meteor was the size of a small asteroid before it entered the Earth's atmosphere.

The two events have brought increased attention and urgency to detection of potentially threatening asteroids and how they might be diverted from colliding with Earth. NASA does have an asteroid detection program underway, although asteroid 2012 DA14 was detected by a serious amateur telescope. Thousands of Near Earth Objects (NEOs) have been detected already, particularly the largest ones that would be most devastating, but the Russian incident shows that many objects capable of causing casualties and damage remain undetected. The situation is getting attention in Congress. Meanwhile, the private B612 Foundation is raising money to fund a spacecraft capable of detecting many more of these objects and two business ventures, Planetary Resources and Deep Space industries are planning to prospect and eventually mine asteroids for their resources that could immensely benefit the future human economy.

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