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.