Friday, May 22, 2015

NASA: How do you feel about asteroids?

Dwarf planet Ceres is seen in the main asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Ceres, one of the most intriguing objects in the solar system, is gushing water vapor from its frigid surface into space, in a finding that raises questions about whether it might be hospitable to life. REUTERS/NASA/ESA
Dwarf planet Ceres is seen in the main asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Ceres, one of the most intriguing objects in the solar system, is gushing water vapor from its frigid surface into space, in a finding that raises questions about whether it might be hospitable to life. REUTERS/NASA/ESA REUTERS/NASA/ESA

How do you react when you hear about asteroids?

Are you:

1)      Excited

2)      Curious,

3)      Concerned

4)      Fearful

5)      Oblivious

Now consider this: There is no organization with the goods to shield the globe from a catastrophic hit by a chunk of cosmic debris.  Earth is unprotected. There is no planetary defense system in place.

Now how do you feel? NASA would like to know.

The national space agency is in the early stages of the Asteroid Grand Challenge, an effort to find any asteroid that poses a potential threat to human populations with the idea of heading them off before any one of them could become a civilization killer.

It’s also developing an Asteroid Redirect Mission, the first-ever asteroid harvesting project “to identify, capture and redirect a near-Earth asteroid to a stable orbit around the moon where astronauts will explore it in the 2020s, returning with samples,” according to its website.

Here’s where you come in: NASA would like your opinion.

“They’re looking for input from the public, not just the space enthusiasts,” said Darlene Cavalier, of SciStarter.com, the Philadelphia-based citizen science hub which has partnered with NASA, Arizona State University and Boston’s Museum of Science to get the word out.  

“It’s a way for citizens to become part of the conversation,” she said.

Interest in asteroids flared in February 2013 after the previously undetected Chelyabinsk meteor exploded over Russia, injuring 1,500 people and damaging a reported 7,000 buildings.

In U.S. Senate hearings following the blast, former astronaut Edward Lu testified that there are nearly a million near-Earth objects that pose a some risk of colliding with the planet. NASA has mapped only 10,000 of them. Nearly 900 of those asteroids are a kilometer wide, and though the chance of an encounter is extraordinarily slim, a hit would wipe out all life as we know it.  Lu is working on a privately-funded project called the Sentinel Mission that aims to launch an infrared space telescope to detect and track asteroids.

To participate in Phase 1 of NASA’s opinion poll, text “Go” to 202-759-2340. For more information and additional opportunities to engage with the Asteroid Initiative, visit ECastonline.org

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