Asteroid Impacts More Frequent Than Previously Thought

Making the news rounds early this week is the story of several former NASA astronauts who will be presenting a discussion on some disconcerting new asteroid impact data.

Astronauts to reveal sobering data on asteroid impacts (Universe Today):

In a recent press release B612 Foundation CEO Ed Lu states:
“This network has detected 26 multi-kiloton explosions since 2001, all of which are due to asteroid impacts. It shows that asteroid impacts are NOT rare—but actually 3-10 times more common than we previously thought. The fact that none of these asteroid impacts shown in the video was detected in advance is proof that the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a ‘city-killer’ sized asteroid is blind luck. The goal of the B612 Sentinel mission is to find and track asteroids decades before they hit Earth, allowing us to easily deflect them.”

According to Lu, “the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a ‘city-killer’ sized asteroid is blind luck.” But how has our luck seemed to remain so good?

The Global Rural Urban Mapping Project (GRUMP) has estimated that approximately 3% of the Earth’s land surface is occupied by urban areas (according to 2005 data). The land surface of the Earth in turn represents approximately 29% of the total surface area, bringing the urban targets to 0.9% of the total surface area.

Roughly one percent doesn’t seem so bad if we’re talking about a single, small impact. But it’s a big sky and with the solar system as our house, we’ve detected 26 detected explosions in the last 13 years. We haven’t been exceptionally lucky; we’re seeing what one might reasonably expect from chance alone. But at that rate, how long before the house can be expected to win?

Instead of fretting and panicking over each asteroid that makes hyped headlines, it makes sense to invest in science-based endeavors to gather more information about our solar system and better separate actual threats, many of which we don’t see coming, from close flybys that don’t threaten us.

The B612 Foundation is a private foundation dedicated to protecting the Earth from asteroid strikes. Their current near-term goal is to build an asteroid-finding space telescope, the proposed Sentinel Infrared Space Telescope, and launch it aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 mission in 2018.

See also:

Asteroid (public domain image)

Asteroid (public domain image)

  7 comments for “Asteroid Impacts More Frequent Than Previously Thought

  1. Geoff Offermann
    April 22, 2014 at 3:03 PM

    Does it seem reasonable that a few dozen multi-kiloton explosions have occurred and, as far as we know, only these folks have noticed? Or is this a matter of them boosting their “hits” to justify their existence as “a private foundation dedicated to protecting the Earth from asteroid strikes”?

    As a blunt comparison: a 15 kT explosion

  2. Geoff Offermann
    April 22, 2014 at 3:05 PM

    Sorry…I only meant to post the link.

  3. April 22, 2014 at 10:16 PM

    It seems a bit more reasonable if one considers that the B612 Foundation does not own or operate the warning network in question and that, as I understand it, the data analysis has been supplied by Western University of Canada.

    That said, “to find and track asteroids” is one matter. To “easily deflect them” is another.

  4. One Eyed Jack
    April 23, 2014 at 9:11 AM

    It’s not as hard as it may first seem to deflect an asteroid. The key is early detection. If you can intercept a dangerous asteroid a few years before impact, you need only make a relatively small change to safely deflect it away by the time it crosses Earth’s orbit.

    NASA has already successfully intercepted and impacted a comet with its Deep Impact mission,

  5. eddi
    April 24, 2014 at 5:21 AM

    It was a good first step. But NASA or whoever else launches against a potential impactor is gonna need a lot bigger hammer to actually do something besides give a Russian astrologer a headache.

  6. Frederick
    April 24, 2014 at 11:00 PM

    Typical scaremonger for money. Not that I’m against more detection. I’m 300% for more nasa and all space agency founding. I have nothing against private sector in space, but as long as earth security goes, I have more trust in Nasa and international space agencies that work together than a private company.

  7. Blargh
    April 25, 2014 at 12:56 PM

    I can easily accept 25 or so unnoticed multi-kiloton explosions. 25 or so multi-kiloton high-altitude airbursts, that is.

    As a comparison, here are some people standing directly beneath a 1.5 kT nuclear detonation (the Plumbbob John shot), perfectly unharmed. 6 or so km beneath it, that is.

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