Deep Space Planet Earth Science — 01 January 2013
Doomsday Paranoia Prompts the Search for Threats outside of Earth

December 22, 2012, was a good day for some; this is because the world is still standing and did not come to an end the day before as some doomsday prophecies have theorized. However, while Dec 21 may have passed without incident, this does not mean mankind is out of the woods yet. Letting our guards down may be a little bit premature as astronomers have detected an asteroid heading right for Earth.

The asteroid is estimated to be about 140 meters and was discovered by scientists from the University of Hawaii. While the asteroid will just barely miss our planet by about 890,000 kilometers, the fact that a behemoth rock is able to come that close is reasonable cause for alarm.

The reason we should worry is because that very same asteroid could change course and be headed back at Earth’s direction in the year 2040. This is due to a phenomenon known as the Yarkovsky effect. The effect occurs when an asteroid absorbs energy from the sun, which can alter the original direction of the object’s trajectory.

The asteroid in question is relatively the same mass as the one that slammed into an uninhabited area of Siberia in 1908, which caused an impact comparable to that of 1,000 atomic bombs going off at once.

Most astronomers agree that being hit by an asteroid is not a matter of “if” but “when.” For this reason, The B612 Foundation, a California based organization, is in the process of obtaining a half billion dollar fund for an infrared space telescope that is capable of detecting large celestial rocks that may pose a threat to Earth.

The telescope they hope to produce is called the Sentinel and will orbit the planet and take pictures of the sky and relay it back home. Detection is the key because we cannot stop what we don’t see. It is estimated that the Sentinel will be able to capture the locations of about 10,000 new asteroids every month.

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