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NASA only has a 10% chance of detecting deadly asteroids before they strike Earth


(NaturalNews) NASA's near-Earth object (NEO) tracking program has only, thus far, been able to identify 10 percent of the medium-sized asteroids that might pose a threat to human life and civilization -- meaning that if such an object were to head our way, it more than likely would go undetected.

"[G]iven its current pace and resources... [the program] will not meet the goal of identifying 90 percent of such objects by 2020," NASA Inspector General Paul Martin wrote in a report released September 15.

In the past five years, the NEO tracking program has seen a 10-fold increase in its budget, from $4 million to $40 million per year. Since 1998, the space administration has spent $100 million on the endeavor -- all aimed at the goal of tracking 90 percent of dangerous asteroids by 2020. Yet according to the report, this increased spending has not led to improved tracking capabilities.

Dangerous asteroids go undetected

As of July 2014, the report says, NASA has successfully detected 11,230 NEOs, including 862 ones larger than 1 km in diameter. The agency believes that it is now able to detect asteroids of at least a kilometer (0.6 miles) in diameter with 95 percent accuracy. This would give the agency a very good chance of detecting a potential collision with an asteroid the size of the one that wiped out the dinosaurs and many other species 65 million years ago -- that giant is believed to have had a diameter of 10 km.

Smaller asteroids can also be dangerous, however, and it is detection of these threats that is lagging. The agency is only able to detect 10 percent of asteroids with diameters of 140 m and larger, all of which are large enough to penetrate the atmosphere without burning up.

One such asteroid, now known as the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor, was 59 feet in diameter and released 30 times as much force as the 1945 atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. The Chelyabinsk meteor exploded in the air about 20 miles above Russia, but it could easily have struck the ground if its angle and speed had been just a little different. Even the in-air blast did significant damage.

"Recent research suggests that Chelyabinsk-type events occur every 30 to 40 years," the report says, although most such impacts occur in the ocean.

More recently, on September 7, a meteorite struck the outskirts of Nicaragua's capital city, Managua, right near its airport. The explosion was felt throughout the city of 1.2 million, and left a crater 16 ft deep and 40 ft across. Authorities believe that the meteor had broken off of the asteroid 2014 RC (nicknamed "Pitbull"), which NASA had detected only the week before.

"I was sitting on my porch and I saw nothing. Then all of a sudden I heard a large blast," Managua resident Jorge Santamaria said. "We thought it was a bomb because we felt an expansive wave."

More resources needed

Martin's report blames the NEO program's poor results on the fact that it has only one dedicated staff person to manage a "loosely structured conglomerate of research activities that are not well integrated and [which] lack overarching program oversight, objectives and established milestones to track progress."

The report recommends that the NEO detection staff be increased by four to six employees, and that projects be coordinated with other government agencies and with private initiatives. The report also urges a focusing of the program's goals.

A new NEO detection program is slated to be unveiled in about a year, said NASA's Associate Administrator for Science, John Grunsfeld.

Sources for this article include:




http://oig.nasa.gov [PDF]


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