I have long preached that one of mankind’s biggest issues is protecting our planet from an asteroid impact. Last month the Hawaii-based Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System detected an overlooked 600-foot-long “potentially hazardous” asteroid with the help of new software technology.
Scientists rely on algorithms to spot asteroids that may threaten Earth. Conventional algorithms need four images of a moving object to confirm whether it’s a genuine space rock. But new software developed by researchers at the University of Washington cuts the number of necessary nightly observations by half, boosting the ability of observatories to quickly identify these projectiles.
The asteroid just discovered through artificial intelligence analysis of astronomical images will approach within 140,000 miles of Earth’s orbit, but there is no impact risk for the next century and very likely for millennia in the future.
The world’s family of asteroid-hunting telescopic surveys have so far found more than 32,000 near-Earth asteroids. Most of those capable of inflicting planet-scale devastation have been found because it’s easier to spot bigger rocks glinting in sunlight.
But asteroids at least 460 feet long — those with the potential to wipe out cities or small countries, should they impact Earth — are considerably more difficult to locate. They are mostly undiscovered at present, with about 10,500 found out of a projected total of roughly 25,000.
I’ll say it again: Forget this foolishness about putting people on Mars. Spend money to discover those dangerous asteroids.
The author, a Kirby resident, is founder and vice-president of the Ethan Allen Institute. To read all EAI news and commentary, go to www.ethanallen.org.