Planetary Protection from Asteroids
A future asteroid strike on Earth in a virtual certainty. It may not be large enough to wipe out humanity, but may well be large enough to challenge agriculture, change weather patterns and affect other facets of life on our planet. In the past, we were told that a major impact is a few million years away at the outside. Beginning in the late 1990s, steps were taken in the U.S. and other nations to improve our detection capability, and more recent observations have found many objects that were not seen before—small objects that are big enough to destroy a city or lay waste a regional area. This is new information and only a few nations have seriously considered this problem to date. Much larger initiatives are needed. Advance warning is the first step—we must know about potentially dangerous Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) as early as possible in order to provide early warning and possibly divert them. Once an incoming threat is detected, a program must be initiated to push the asteroid (or potentially a comet) off course and away from its destructive rendezvous with Earth. As Dr. Melamed will discuss, these types of interventions will be technically challenging and expensive and can be best accomplished by a consortium of national governments.