NASA unveils Program to Defend Earth From Asteroid Attack

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Among Earth’s natural disasters, the common ones are the hurricanes, floods, earthquakes the one humans probably ponder least and the uncommon one is the asteroids, huge objects zipping through our solar system at ludicrous speeds. The NSTC (National Science and Technology Council) recently released a report calling for improved asteroid detection, tracking and deflection. 

According to a major new report issued by many of the most important bodies in the US, the world needs better ways of spotting the asteroids and then swatting them out of our way. It is very difficult and would take years to build the spacecraft which has the ability to move an asteroid out of our way. But knowing when one is coming would at least give people time to evacuate the area, the report warns.

The US and other nations have long sought to track such “near-earth objects,” or NEOs, coordinating efforts through the International Asteroid Warning Network and the United Nations. The Trump Administration now wants to enhance those efforts to detect and track potential planet killers.

According to NASA estimates, more than 300,000 objects larger than 40 meters (131 feet) wide orbit the sun as NEOs, with many being difficult to detect more than a few days in advance. The most recent encounter with an asteroid was on 2 June, when a 2-meter boulder dubbed 2018 LA entered the atmosphere at 10 miles per second (38,000 mph) and exploded over Botswana.

NASA’s planetary defence officer, Lindley Johnson, said scientists have found 95% of all these near-Earth objects measuring one kilometre or bigger. But the hunt is still on for the remaining 5% and smaller rocks that could still inflict big damage. Altogether, NASA has catalogued 18,310 objects of all sizes. There’s no quick solution if a space rock is suddenly days, weeks or even months from striking.

Ground telescopes are good at picking up asteroids zooming into the inner solar system and approaching from the night side of the earth. What’s difficult to detect are rocks that have already zipped past the sun and are heading out of the solar system, approaching from the day side.

A robotic spacecraft should be built to change the path of the asteroid or comet that is about to hit the Earth or in the worst case, launching a nuclear device to superheat its surface and blow off enough material to divert it.