The extraterrestrial double whammy that Earth only partially avoided on Friday has triggered an immediate response from astronomers. Several have announced plans to create state-of-the-art detection systems to give warning of incoming asteroids and meteoroids.
The announcements of the various plans follow Friday’s meteorite crash that caused devastation in Chelyabinsk, Russia. On the same day, a 150ft-diameter asteroid swept to within 17,000 miles of Earth.
The fact that the two events happened together has been dismissed as “a cosmic coincidence” by scientists. Nevertheless, astronomers have been quick to reassure the public that they have plans to provide better warnings of future impacts.
US company Deep Space Industries is preparing to launch a series of small spacecraft later this decade. These are aimed at surveying nearby asteroids to see if they can be mined for metals and ores. However the fleet could also be used to monitor small, difficult-to-detect objects that threaten to strike Earth.
The University of Hawaii has proposed a cheaper, simpler system known as Atlas — Advanced Terrestrial-Impact Last Alert System — to be constructed with a $5m grant from Nasa. It will consist of eight telescopes to be built on Hawaiian islands whose clear air makes accurate observations easy. GNS