NASA has just discovered the 10,000th near-Earth asteroid, that’s the good news. Problem: NASA estimates that there are at least 100,000 more similar space rocks that have yet to be discovered. The 10,000th asteroid was discovered on June 18 by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) telescope..
Speaking on the discovery, Lindley Johnson, program executive for NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program said that “finding 10,000 near-Earth objects is a significant milestone.” Johnson later added that there could be 10 times (100,000) more such rocks lurking, unseen, in the blackness of space.
For us here on Earth, this finding is especially important considering that a rather small space rock exploded over Russia earlier this year, setting off a shockwave of over magnitude 5 on the Richter Scale and injuring over 1,000 people, most by shattering, flying glass.
As of now, there are millions of asteroids floating around the solar system, mostly in the Main Asteroid Belt, which is safely between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Of the millions of asteroids 7,000 are classified as near-Earth. Of the near-Earth objects, over1,000 are considered as “potentially hazardous,” which is defined as an object over 500 feet in diameter that can come within 4.6 million miles of Earth.
Obviously, a metallic space rock 500 feet across traveling at up to 15 miles per second could do an immense amount of damage. For comparison, the object (most likely a comet) that caused the Tunguska Incidentwas probably less than 100 yards (300 feet across) but still leveled forests for over 1,000 square miles.
Needless to say, if such an object (even a small one) were to hit a populated area, the death toll would be apocalyptic. Large impactor? Worldwide devastation and possibly an end to civilization as we know it, which is all the more reason to keep looking and working on planetary defense systems.
The problem with many doomsday scenarios: when contemplating ways to defend our planet, many planners always give several months and often years of notice. Problem: asteroids have a way of sneaking up on us, which is not hard to do considering that there are more people working at the average McDonald’s than there are full-time asteroid hunters manning the world’s observatories. Last month, it was reported that nuking asteroids might be the saving grace for Earth but, for many, such a scenario should be considered last resort, not first option, which leaves early detection as a more favorable option.
Needless to say, by looking at the numbers alone, there are thousands of reasons NASA and others should continue scanning the skies.
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