On Feb 15 2013 the earth is going to get a close shave from an asteroid. Don’t freak out, not yet. It is not going to hit us; it is going to pass very close to earth. The asteroid’s name is ‘2012 DA14’, it is roughly about 50 meters or 160 feet across. It is going to miss us by 27,700 kilometers which is almost twice the earth’s diameter. It is the closest that an asteroid has ever gotten to earth (without hitting us of course) in recorded history; It is pretty close, closer than some of our geosynchronous satellites. It is so close that you can even see it with just a simple binoculars or a telescope. The Earth’s gravity is massive enough to change the trajectory of this asteroid and professional astronomers are going to be all over this making tonnes of observations. If you want to know more about the asteroid and possibly get to see it, watch this episode of SciShow.
Now, ‘DA14’ is not a one time visitor, he will be back in 2020 and we do not know his intentions for later, completely yet. This begs an important question, what if one day he suddenly decides to crash on our couch? Quite literally… Well, may be we should ask the dinosaurs that question but, there are no dinosaurs left, are there? Thats what happened the last time when an uninvited asteroid crashed the party. Planet wide extinction!
Okay, well… How many such home wreckers are there who can possibly do some considerable damage? According to Phil Plait – The Bad Astronomer, There are about million such asteroids and we have only characterized only about 10,000 of them. If we convert that ratio into percentages, we know about only .01% of the estimated number of near earth asteroids. Wow! That is frighteningly ignorant, isn’t it?
If at all we don’t want to be some museum exhibit for some later civilization, we should be able to protect ourselves from such asteroids. Protecting doesn’t mean blowing up the asteroid with the nuke like in the movie Armageddon, that will have dire consequences like a radioactive meteor shower, which is equally disastrous. There are various other asteroid deflection techniques, but to do any of that, first we have to find and characterize the near earth asteroids.
This is precisely what the B612 foundation wants to do, their mission is to,
“Protect the earth. To find the asteroids, before they find us. To harness the power of science and technology to protect the future of our planet, while extending our reach into the solar system.”
This might sound like something out of a Super Man comic but its true, The B612 foundation is a non-profit charitable organization started by a group of notable scientists, including two former NASA astronauts. And as a first step, they are building a bus sized telescope called The Sentinel and they will put it in orbit around the Sun to watch out for us.
Here is Dr.Ed Lu talking at TEDx about what they are doing and why they are doing it. Watch it, you will be both educated and amazed.
These guys are not backed by any government or any organisation and they are a not for profit organisation. The key word here is ‘Charitable‘ organisation They have taken on this huge endeavor with nothing but faith in humanity, they need help, they work on donations from the general public. Also they have cool merchandise like cups and T-Shirts, if you want. May be we all can contribute towards saving the earth.
You might have heard this, If you are good at something, never do it for free.
Introducing the company Planetary Resources.
Why deflect it if you can sell it? Planetary Resources is an asteroid mining company, yes! you heard me right, asteroid mining! The company proposes to mine near earth asteroids for heavy metals. Heavy metals, as they are heavy, sank to the center of the earth when the earth was still in molten state. So it is very difficult to mine large quantities of heavy metals here on earth; But on asteroids, as they lack the gravity to do the same thing, heavy metals are uniformly distributed in them. The company’s estimates tells us that the amount of heavy metals available in a single large asteroid may be more than the total amount of heavy metals ever mined on earth.
This is only the first half of their plan. Another thing that is available in asteroids in large quantities is water, frozen water. The company proposes to extract this water, separate it into hydrogen and oxygen, make pit-stops for interplanetary travel, with water to drink, oxygen to breathe and hydrogen to fuel your rocket.
Started by eminent Scientists, Astronauts and Entrepreneurs, the company’s goal is audacious enough to turn big heads. The company’s backers and investors include Film producer and Director James Cameron, Google’s founder Larry page and Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. Complete list of the big shots here.
Planetary Resources have already come out with their first batch of satellites called the ‘Arkyd-100’ series. Yes, it’s a batch, they don’t tinker with one or two, these satellites are mass-produced, in a production line. This is the first time anybody has mass-produced satellites. The Arkyd-100 is a Space Telescope and prospecting technology demonstrator, it will be launched into space pretty soon to prospect for potential dig sites.
Here is Chris Lewicki, President and Chief Engineer of Planetary Resources giving a tech update on the Arkyd-100,
Well, If you’ve heard of a crazier idea than this, let me know. But after all, every revolutionary idea is considered crazy in its own time, may be its time we extend humanity’s greedy hands beyond the reaches of our own planet. Although remember, this is a for-profit organization and let’s hope that this does not become the next East India Company. ;-)
One way or another, either you just deflect it or make money out of it, to save us from the rocks that the universe is chucking at us, to establish gas stations between here and Mars, they are ambitious and creative plans and I look forward to their success, to push humanity forward!