Of all the cataclysmic threats facing humanity, the one that could really wipe us off the map -- a hit by a truly massive asteroid -- gets relatively little in terms of resources.
The B612 Foundation aims to change that with the launch of a space telescope that would try to track half a million asteroids in the inner solar system believed to be larger than the one that hit Russia's Tunguska in 1908, causing enormous damage.
The Tunguska object's size and nature remains a matter of debate. But only 1 percent of larger asteroids have been mapped so far, according to B612, which was named after the fictional asteroid home of the Little Prince.
According to recent observations from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), there are an estimated 4,700 potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs), plus or minus 1,500, with diameters larger than 330 feet.
PHAs are defined as coming within 5 million miles of our planet's orbit and being "big enough to survive passing through Earth's atmosphere and cause damage on a regional, or greater, scale."
The Sentinel Infrared (IR) Space Telescope will be built by Ball Aerospace and will launch on a SpaceX Falcon9 in 2017 or 2018 as the first privately funded deep-space mission, B612 said in a recent release.
Sentinel will slingshot around Venus and enter orbit around the sun, deploying its 20-inch mirror over five and a half years to track 90 percent of asteroids larger than 460 feet across.
The data will be routed through NASA's Deep Space Network and Minor Planet Center, while the JPL Near Earth Object Program will assess potential threats.
"We will know which asteroids will pass close to Earth and when, and which, if any of these asteroids actually threaten to collide with Earth," Rusty Schweickart, chairman emeritus of B612 and an Apollo 9 astronaut, was quoted as saying in a release.
"The nice thing about asteroids is that once you've found them and once you have a good solid orbit on them you can predict a hundred years ahead of time whether there is a likelihood of an impact with the Earth."
I guess that means we won't panic and have to send aged Hollywood actors up in a rocket to take care of any doomsday rocks.
(Via Physics Word)