Earlier this year, an incoming bus-sized asteroid went completely undetected until it passed between the Earth and the Moon, prompting NASA to launch inquiries into just how unprepared Earth actually is for the possibility of an asteroid strike. Each year, NASA tracks close to 15,000 so-called “near-Earth objects” (NEOs), asteroids and other deadly space rocks zooming around in the blackness of space above our heads. Fun stuff.
To help protect Earth from asteroids, or at least give us a few hours to get good and drunk before the Big One wipes our miserable planet off of the galactic map, NASA has been testing the NEA SCOUT, a system designed to detect and track incoming near-Earth objects. SCOUT consists of a single CubeSat, a tiny box-shaped satellite. NEA Scout is still in the development phase, but a recent near-miss detected by the satellite shows that the system might have some promise in detecting incoming asteroids.
According to National Public Radio, NASA’s SCOUT system and several telescopes around the world detected an incoming asteroid on October 25th. The asteroid, named MPEC 2016-U84, was estimated to be between 5 and 25 meters in diameter and was expected to miss Earth by around 300,000 miles (~482,000 km). Based on initial estimates, Earth would have had just five days to get its affairs in order before the asteroid impact.
Astronomer Ed Lu, head of the B612 Foundation which seeks to protect Earth from the terrifyingly serious asteroid threat, told NPR that while five days is not nearly enough warning, we might be able to one day prepare ourselves if given enough time through such a warning system:
If you know well in advance, and by well in advance I mean 10 years, 20 years, 30 years in advance, which is something we can do, then you can divert such an asteroid by just giving it a tiny nudge when it’s many billions of miles from hitting the Earth.
Hmm…five days, huh? At least that would give us all enough time to binge watch LOST one last time. Well…almost. We might have to skip that one episode. You know the one.