International Meteorite Defense Network To Be Built
Nov 27, 2008 13:51
An asteroid that's 45 meters across is headed towards Earth - its
impact will unleash 3-5 megatons of energy, equivalent to hundreds of
atomic bombs. Unfortunately the world's governments are so
badly-prepared that nobody responds to the danger until it's too late.
Now a group called the Panel on Asteroid Threat Mitigation is working
with the United Nations to make sure this never comes to pass, and
astronaut Rusty Schweickart has just published an interesting article
about the work he's doing with the group.
Writing on SciFi's How You Can Save the World blog, Schweickart says:
We’ve now got a nascent early warning system — albeit not
well coordinated or securely funded. Furthermore, while no world space
agency has yet demonstrated the space technology to deflect an
asteroid, the techniques are pretty well understood. In fact, JPL just
completed a detailed performance analysis on the gravity tractor
concept for the B612 Foundation, and it works just fine. On paper.
So while these two essential legs of a protective triad sort-of
exist, the third leg — making a decision to act — is basically nowhere.
Who is in charge? Who issues warnings? . . . Who orders an evacuation
if it’s too late for a deflection?
Sure, we could leave all this to the emergence of a threat and see
how it all settles out in real time. That would be typical of
bureaucracy at the domestic level, let alone at the international
level. But unlike global warming or many other huge socio-political
issues, this one is 1) pretty clear science-wise, and 2) cheap to
“solve.” In this case solve = prevent an impact . . . [But] action has
to be taken 12 or more years prior to a predicted impact and political
systems are simply not good at addressing lead times of that magnitude
(to understate it!).
At last, however, the U.N. is addressing this issue. Schweickart's
group is putting together a report on how to respond to potential
meteorite impact, and will present it next year to the UN Committee on
the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. Unfortunately solutions like that you see on Armageddon won't work, at least, not even in practical.
Wired has published a very nice feature on Kip Thorne and the science behind Chris Nolan's Interstellar. Kip Thorne is one of the world's most celebrated theoretical physicists. He and Nolan worked together to ensure depictions of scientific happenings in the film are as accurate as possible. Read more