Astronomers are the ones who decipher all the mysteries of the universe. However, at the same time, their research keeps us safe. This seems to be the purpose of the NEOCam, an infrared space telescope that is meant to detect objects close Earth. According to researchers, a meteoric collision is inevitable.
“The question is, when is the next one going to happen on a human time scale as well as a geological time scale?” says Amy Mainzer, who is scientist at CalTech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the principal investigator for the NEOCam project.
These collisions can be incredibly dangerous, even if the asteroids aren’t huge. One well known case took place in 1908 in Russia when 2000 square km of forest were destroyed by an asteroid that was around 40 to 60 meters in diameter.
While NASA did discover around 8000 objects, way more remain undiscovered.
“I don’t lose sleep over the risk of an undiscovered asteroid impacting the Earth because the chances are small, but they are not zero,” says MIT planetary scientist Richard Binzel. “We have the capability, the adult responsibility, to simply know what’s out there. And NEOCam is basically ready to go.”
The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope
“I don’t think anyone appreciates how hectic the early part of the [LSST Survey] will be, when we begin to see everything that is out there,” Binzel says. ”A 10 meter object passes inside the Moon’s orbit every week—and we’ll start seeing years and years-worth of these ‘incoming’ objects well in advance of their close approach. The early orbit solutions won’t be able to distinguish ‘hit or miss.’ We’ll need to concentrate our attention on the largest objects in that incoming flux—and we need the IR [infrared] characterization to sort that out.”
Meagan Kozlovs is a reporter for Debate Report. She’s worked and interned at Global News Toronto and CHECX. Megan is based in Toronto and covers issues affecting her city. In addition to her severe milk shake addiction, she’s a Netflix enthusiast, a red wine drinker, and a voracious reader.