Nasa told ‘Save the Earth!’

Nasa has been ordered to mount a major operation to protect Earth from the devastating impact of an asteroid.
US Congress instructed the space agency to focus on finding and tracking all space rocks 100 metres or more wide.
They must also devise methods of deflecting any found on an Armageddon-style collision course with us.
Congress authorised Nasa to spend $20million a year over the next two years on the doomsday project. They said their goal must be to catalogue and monitor 90 per cent of hazardous asteroids – called Near Earth Objects – by 2015.
The decision marks a revolutionary shift in thinking about the cosmic threat to our planet. It is expected to be approved by the US Senate before the end of the month and signed into law by President Bush.
Numerous asteroids are known with orbits that bring them perilously close to the Earth. Astronomers have still not ruled out an impact with an NEO called Apophis in 2036.
That asteroid, which is about 300 yards across, will just miss us on a previous pass in 2009.
An impact by an asteroid a few hundred yards wide could destroy a city and its surroundings.
Previously, Nasa had been trying to find asteroids 1km or more in size on a budget of $7million. The new order recognises that rocks a tenth that size can still cause widespread devastation.
Some believe the politicians’ minds were also focused by the horror of the tsunami a year ago. It showed that natural disasters do happen and that efforts must be made to avoid those that can be prevented.
Congress said: “Near-Earth objects pose a serious and credible threat to humankind, as many scientists believe that a major asteroid or comet was responsible for the mass extinction of the majority of the Earth’s
species, including the dinosaurs, nearly 65,000,000 years ago.
“Several such near-Earth objects have only been discovered within days of their closest approach to Earth, and recent discoveries indicate that many large near-Earth objects remain undiscovered.”
UK asteroid expert Benny Peiser, of Liverpool John Moores University, said yesterday: “This is the perfect Christmas present! NASA now has the full mandate and funds to gradually close the window of cosmic vulnerability.
“By 2030, the risk of dying from the impact of an unknown asteroid should be 1000 times lower than NASA estimated in 1992 when less than 200 NEOs were known.
“We have the technology now to essentially solve the asteroid impact  hazard for good within the next one or two generations.”

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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