Science

NASA launches new mission to search for killer asteroids and prevent human extinction


In total $35.6million (£27.22million) has been provided for the new project, called the Near Earth Object Surveillance Mission. The plan is to launch a new space satellite, complete with infrared camera, that will hunt for asteroids in the vicinity of Earth.

On December 20 President Trump signed the ‘minibus’ spending law which provides an additional $22.6billion (£17.3billion) for NASA.

Of this $2.7billion (£2.1billion) will go to NASA’s planetary science funding line, that will be used to fund the new project.

Congress has ordered NASA to identify all NEOs which are at least 140 meters in diameter, judged to be the point they would have a regional or global impact if they collide with the Earth.

The Near Earth Object Surveillance Mission will be run from the University of Arizona under the leadership of Amy Mainzer.

In a statement released on the University of Arizona website Ms Mainzer explained the new project’s purpose.

She said: “This mission would answer a fundamental question: Are there asteroids or comets out there that can cause harm to the Earth over the next century?”

Earlier this year a top scientist warned its inevitable a large asteroid will smash into Earth, potentially with devastating consequences, unless leaders take action.

Greg Leonard, a senior researcher at the NASA financed Catalina Sky Survey (CSS), put the probability at “one hundred percent” unless changes are made.

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However the impact of a much larger rock could be catastrophic for the human species if it hits Earth, fundamentally changing the planets environment.

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Referring to asteroids Mr Leonard commented: “I also know that if we do nothing, sooner or later, there’s a one hundred percent chance that one will get us.

“So I feel privileged to be doing something.”

A giant asteroid strike, likely by a rock a few kilometres across, is believed to have been responsible for the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event.

This took place 66 million years ago wiping out around three quarters of animal species on Earth, including the dinosaurs.

Mr Leonard’s comments came after NASA admitted it only spotted a potentially dangerous asteroid hurtling towards Earth just hours before it entered Earth’s atmosphere.

The asteroid, 2019 MO, burned up in the atmosphere above the Caribbean on June 29.

It was identified by NASA around 300,000 miles from Earth.

This is further away from our planet than the Moon.

In a statement NASA claimed this was “roughly the equivalent of spotting something the size of a gnat from a distance of 310 miles”.



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