Asteroid Strike Is Like a Pandemic Imagine the following situation. Scientists have identified a potential global threat, but preliminary data is accurate. Not enough to encourage drastic action. Quickly, relentlessly, threatens metastasis. What was once avoidable is becoming inevitable. The world has no choice but to endure this catastrophe at the cost of billions of dollars and millions of lives.
This is the story of the COVID epidemic – but it could also be the story of catastrophic strikes from larger asteroids. Since we have come out of the worst of COVID-19, we need to pay attention to this lesson: low probability, high impact events do occur; But if we do enough with the preparation, they can be mitigated.
Asteroid Strike Is Like a Pandemic Asteroids are like viruses in a way: they number in the millions, but only threaten a few species. For asteroids, it is the diversity “near Earth” or the orbits that reach us on our own – which we need to be concerned about.
Like a viral outbreak, the likelihood of disaster in any given year is low, but almost inevitable over time. And just as we can develop vaccines against too much damage against emerging viruses in principle, we can boost immunity without making people sick, we can also use modern technology to develop a level of global resistance to asteroid collisions. .
However, this requires continued investments in research and preparedness, and more than $ 5 billion has been spent on outbreak preparedness in the United States over the past decade (with mixed results acknowledged), with the nation spending less than a tenth of its asteroid detection. and deviation.
In fact, space effects still occur, but they are usually weak and harmful. The Earth mixes all year round with meteorites that are only a few inches or less in size, they glow like shooting stars as they enter our atmosphere. The threat comes from the larger sizes, which are the size of a house or more. These strikes happen less frequently, but they do happen.
In 2013, a 60-foot-diameter meteor exploded in the city of Chelyabinsk, injuring several thousand people. Very large ones are even rarer, occurring every few hundred million years. But the damage they cause can be catastrophic. Think about the mass extinction that happened 65 billion years ago that wiped out most dinosaurs. The good news is we’ve found most of them, and luckily not everyone is in their sights for us.
But there is a happy medium that requires our attention: the “City Killer” asteroids which are close to a football field and can unleash 10,000 times the power of an atomic bomb, including Hiroshima. They seem to have built on us for thousands of years. There are probably thousands of them in near Earth orbits, yet we have only found a third.
And they are hard to find. Even the biggest are small, cosmopolitan and camouflaged against the blackness of space by their dark surfaces. Ground telescopes, which measure reflected light, have trouble seeing these small, faded objects. Only a few hundred discoveries are made each year. To significantly improve the detection rate, we need to move from Earth to the asteroid region. We need a telescope in space.
The Near-Earth Object Surveyor (NEO) is currently a moderate space telescope under study by NASA. Instead of looking at the reflected light, it will look for the thermal signatures of asteroids, which glow with infrared radiation on the cold background of space. And in space, where bad weather and daytime observations are not limited, the NEO surveyor could find more city-killing asteroids in the next 10 years than all telescopes on Earth have discovered over the course of of the last three decades.