World Asteroid Day: Tracking hazardous asteroids

New Delhi : Slooh, an online astronomy platform with live-views and telescope rental for a fee, is celebrating the World Asteroid Day with four hours of live programming (on Internet) with a well-known roster of guest-scientists, including Dr Nathan Myhrvold, former Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft, who recently published a criticism of NASA’s approach to asteroid detection. Slooh’s observations come from a global network of telescopes located in places including Spain and Chile which can be watched on a computer or any other device connected to the Internet.

The International Asteroid Day, June 30 marks the largest observed asteroid strike in recorded history – the 1908 airburst above Tunguska in Siberia. The Tunguska impact felled around 60 million trees across 2200 sq km of territory. The asteroid luckily fell into Earth away from Europe – the results would have been disastrous had it struck over a populated area. A hundred years later, Europe came face to face with an asteroid for the first time, as European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission flew past Šteins, a Gibraltar-scale diamond-shaped body. A second close encounter took place in 2010, as Rosetta spacecraft passed the mammoth 100 km-diameter Lutetia .

The vast bulk of the more than 7,00,000 asteroids so far discovered reside in the asteroid belt.
The threat to Earth comes from asteroids whose orbit brings them close to Earth, known as Near-Earth Objects. There are an estimated 10,000,000 NEOs out there larger than 10 m – which can be a threat to our planet. Just over 14 000 of those are presently known. Based on 10 plus years of building public awareness of near-Earth asteroids (NEAs), the Slooh programme will shine a light on all of the fascinating aspects of asteroids, including detection, deflection of asteroids that threaten Earth and mining asteroids for precious metals and minerals.

“We’ll talk about the number of asteroids out there on a potential collision course with Earth, the kind of danger they pose and what NASA and private organizations like Slooh and others are doing to mitigate that risk,” says a media release of the organisation. The millions of asteroids in our solar system also present opportunities of commercialization of asteroids. Planetary Resources, a company, is planning to visit asteroids to mine them for gold, platinum and even water; while another company Made in Space plans to use materials found on asteroids to 3D print spaceships. Meanwhile European Space Agency (ESA) has since 2009 been performing Near Earth Objects (NEOs) detection and analysis as part of its Space Situational Awareness programme, marshalling observatories and astronomers worldwide through its SSA NEO Coordination Centre at ESA’s ESRIN facility in Italy.

NASA’s efforts to detect asteroids, including a partnership with the B612 Foundation, which had planned to launch an infrared space telescope into orbit around the Sun to detect asteroids that are impossible to see from Earth, has however been aborted.

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