February 17, 2013
The extraterrestrial double whammy that Earth only partially avoided on Friday has triggered an immediate response from astronomers. Several have announced plans to create state-of-the-art detection systems to give warning of incoming asteroids and meteoroids. These include projects backed by Nasa as well as proposals put forward by private space contractors.
In each case, scientists want to develop techniques that can pinpoint relatively small but still potentially devastating meteoroids, comets and asteroids that threaten to strike Earth. These would give notice of impact of several days or possibly weeks and allow threatened areas to be evacuated.
The announcements of the various plans follow Friday’s meteorite crash that caused devastation in Chelyabinsk, Russia. On the same day, a 150ft-diameter asteroid swept to within 17,000 miles of Earth.
The fact that the two events happened together has been dismissed as “a cosmic coincidence” by scientists. Nevertheless, astronomers – many gathered at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Boston this weekend – have been quick to reassure the public that they have plans to provide better warnings of future impacts.