A total of 14,246 near-earth objects (asteroids and comets) have been spotted by NEOWISE space telescope and ground-based ones.
The universe is filled with heavenly bodies floating around, set for some destination. Among them are asteroids and comets moving about. But, what prevents the latter from colliding into Earth? Ha, exactly. They could as well be actual threats to us, and we wouldn’t know. But, worry not – NASA has it covered. They have been monitoring asteroids and comets that are in our vicinity; these are called Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) and they are observed with NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) spacecraft.
The NEOWISE space telescope is, therefore, out there, hunting for asteroids and comets that might be threatening. For three years now, it has spotted 72 new NEOs, of which 8 might be potentially dangerous to us.
NEOWISE has also identified space rocks using ground-based telescopes.
A total of 14,246 NEOs have thus been found.
“NEOWISE discovers large, dark, near-Earth objects, complementing our network of ground-based telescopes operating at visible-light wavelengths. On average, these objects are many hundreds of meters across,” says the principal investigator of NEOWISE, Amy Mainzer.
As per NASA’s calculations, we are currently under no threat, and no NEO is likely to impact the Earth in the near future either.
Still, are we really safe? Can we deem ourselves to be safe from what can fall onto us from the sky? The Chelyabinsk tragedy is still etched in our minds – a meteor hitting Russia in February 2013 had led to a great catastrophe.
But, then, you might ask, even if we know of some impending danger, what can we do about it? “No government agency, national or international, has been tasked or accepted the responsibility to stop such an asteroid, should one be discovered”, says NASA.
“Unless there are a few decades of warning time, hazardous asteroids larger than a few hundred meters in diameter will require enormous energies to deflect or fragment. In the rare case of a large threatening asteroid, nuclear explosions that could push or fragment the object might provide a sufficient response.”
Recently, researchers had suggested using laser weapons to destroy asteroids that might pose a threat to us. The NEO would be vapourised before it could even touch us.
NASA is currently working on a way to redirect such asteroids. A nuclear weapon was also mentioned as a technique to protect the Earth.
Regardless of the bright ideas, nothing is prepared yet. It is daunting to think how we are exposed – we, humans, should not think of ourselves as safe from what is beneath our feet, and what is above us.