Feeds

NASA chief: Earth is DOOMED if we spot a big asteroid at short notice

Action on REAL threat to the planet 'put off for decades'

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Billions of dollars are needed to keep the Earth safe from asteroids like the one that smashed into Russia last month, experts have told the US government.

Planetoid crashes into primordial Earth

While NASA has made good progress cataloguing nearly 93 per cent of larger Near-Earth Objects (NEOs), smaller meteorites like the Chelyabinsk one - which was around 17m wide - can often slip through the net.

Experts met with the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology to review the government's efforts to track and mitigate against asteroids and meteors, efforts that were acknowledged to be difficult under current budget restraints.

"The smaller they are, the harder they are to spot, and yet they can be life-threatening," congressman Lamar Smith, chair of the committee, said in opening remarks.

"NASA believes it has discovered 93 per cent of the largest asteroids in near-Earth orbit, those one kilometre or larger. But what about the other seven per cent remaining, about 70, or even those smaller than one kilometre, estimated to be in the thousands? An asteroid as small as 100 metres could destroy an entire city upon a direct hit. Are we tracking those?" he asked.

White House science adviser John Holdren said that funding for cataloguing potentially dangerous space rocks had risen from $5m to over $20m in the last few years.

But NASA administrator Charles Bolden reckons it will still take until 2030 to spot 90 per cent of the smaller NEOs between 140m and 1km at that level of funding, NBC News reported.

Smith said there was no way NASA was "going to somehow defy budget gravity and get an increase when everyone else is getting cuts", but said "we need to find ways to prioritise NASA's projects".

Holdren said that the most useful project to get going would be to put an infrared telescope in a Venus-like orbit to spot asteroids that can't be seen from the ground because they're lost in the Sun's glare. The Chelyabinsk meteorite was exactly that kind of meteor, which came in from a direction that Earthbound telescopes can't look in.

That telescope would cost $500m to $750m but it could reduce the time it takes to survey smaller space rocks by six to eight years, he said.

Bolden has already pointed out that the imminent automatic US spending cuts, known as sequestration, will affect NASA's plans and projects - including asteroid-hunting as well as plans to get a person on an asteroid by 2025.

"The president has a plan. But that plan is incremental," Bolden said. "And if we want to save the planet, because I think that’s what we’re talking about, then we have to get together ... and decide how we’re going to execute that plan."

The NASA chief did emphasise that the chance of space rocks like the Chelyabinsk meteorite entering the atmosphere were pretty rare, but he admitted to lawmakers that if a larger asteroid was threatening, it would take years of advance warning to do anything about it.

Congressman Bill Posey asked him what the strategy would be if a planet-threatening asteroid was discovered with three weeks' warning.

"If it's coming in three weeks ... pray," Bolden replied. "The reason I can't do anything in the next three weeks is because for decades we have put it off." ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Relive the death of Earth over and over again in Extinction Game
Apocalypse now, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that ...
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.