Saturday, January 23, 2010

Our Ultimate Sustainability: More funds required to protect Earth against killer asteroids

(Painting: Don Davis)

New York, January 23 -- NASA will not be able to detect the potentially devastating near Earth objects (NEOs) by 2020, concluded a report released Friday.

Explaining the reason, the report titled ‘Defending Planet Earth: Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies’ stated that the government has not provided enough money to carry out the searches to track asteroids or comets.

In 2005, the government had ordered a survey to track nearly 90 percent NEOs, about 140 meters in diameters.

Unfortunately NASA will not be able to complete the survey as searches, though mandated, have not been funded by the Congress.

Focus on large asteroids

The Earth has always been subject to threats from comets and asteroids, and these cosmic collisions have played a major role in the mass extinctions.

Scientists have over the years focused on large asteroids but the impact by these asteroids or comets is very rare. The last worst impact was 65 million years ago when an asteroid, around 10 kilometers in diameter, hit the Yucatan peninsula on the east coast of Mexico, leading to extinction of the dinosaurs.

Russians scientists had last month confirmed that an asteroid named Apophis is heading towards Earth and it could hit the planet in 2030s, leading to catastrophic disaster.

Having more than 20 years of warning about the potential impact, the Russian scientists are not sitting idle. In fact, they have already started making plans like to avert the menace.

More threat from small objects

But the report states that space rocks as large as that head towards Earth on very rare occassions, it is the smaller asteroids that pose more threat. The scientists at the National Research Council argued that currently the nation spends $4 million a year to search for NEOs but this amount is insufficient.

There are more than 2 million space objects that have a near-Earth orbit. Though it is normal for such objects to pass to pass Earth within the distance of a moon about once a week, asteroids could prove devastating if they strike the planet.

An object of about 50 to 75 meters in radius could lead to destruction equal to devastation created by nuclear explosion. In order to avoid the wreckage, it is imperative for the government to fund the survey so that NASA can launch space probes to the orbit of Venus to track the threats posed by Earth’s neighborhood.

As this could prove expensive, the cheaper option is that government should fund telescope so that the scientists can detect the 90 percent of asteroids by 2030.

Since a lot of planning is required to launch spacecraft to divert the path of an asteroid heading towards Earth, the nations should focus on organized evacuations and other civil defense efforts to deal with small asteroids, states report.

The Money Times

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