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Russia's meteor  (Source: gannett-cdn.com)
NASA needs funding for small meteor defense

NASA told Congress to "pray" if a meteor similar to the one that hit Russia last month is ever three weeks away from the U.S.

NASA administrator Charles Bolden Jr. told Congress that the U.S. doesn't have the proper equipment to identify a small meteor (the size of Russia's meteor) in a House Committee hearing on Tuesday.

"If it's coming in three weeks ... pray," Bolden said. "The reason I can't do anything in the next three weeks is because for decades we have put it off. We are where we are today because, you know, you all told us to do something and between the administration and the Congress, the funding to do that did not - the bottom line is always the funding did not come."

The U.S. is able to detect larger meteors (and offset them a bit by crashing a spacecraft into them, thus slowing them down and changing their course) with plenty of in advance, but smaller objects are more difficult because the sun blinds satellites. That's precisely why Russia didn't see the meteor coming -- and neither did the U.S. 

Had the meteor not stayed intact for only seconds longer, it would have had the impact of 20 Hiroshima bombs once hitting Russia, according to a CBS News report

Donald Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office, said that the U.S. needs a space-based infrared telescope to see smaller objects coming. This particular telescope would work because the sun wouldn't be an issue in blocking sight of the objects. 

Yeomans also suggested ground-based wide field optical telescopes that could keep an eye on large parts of the sky at night. 

The space-based infrared telescope would cost "a few hundred million dollars."

However, government funding remains an issue. Bolden said NASA was budgeted only $20.5 million for its near-Earth object observation program for fiscal 2012. 

While NASA doesn't see any large meteors coming toward Earth in the foreseeable future (and current large meteor detection equipment would know decades in advance), small meteors need to be taken seriously as well to prevent destruction. 

The Chelyabinsk meteor exploded over Russia on February 15, 2013. It was estimated to be traveling at 40,000 MPH and was about 11,000 tonnes. 

Source: CBS News



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RE: Stupid question alert
By Amiga500 on 3/20/2013 2:53:45 PM , Rating: 2
What shockwaves? There is nothing for the explosion to pressure pulse with!

The best bet would be to try and use "bunker busting" nukes to burrow in, detonate and hopefully fragment (through seismic shockwaves, very different from gaseous shockwaves) the asteroid to a level where the larger bits mostly burn off on atmospheric entry.


RE: Stupid question alert
By FaaR on 3/20/2013 5:25:20 PM , Rating: 3
Nuking asteroids is problematic because not all asteroids are particularly solid, and if we have little in the way of advance warning there's no telling what that thing moving towards us really is. Is it one massive lump of stone or nickel-iron, or is it mostly just rubble fused with ice, or held together under its own weak gravity? Nuking something like the latter could mean instead of one impact site we'd shotgun-blast an entire continent or even hemisphere; peppering it with large rocks, causing even more widespread devastation.


RE: Stupid question alert
By MozeeToby on 3/21/2013 9:25:09 AM , Rating: 2
You can't break up an asteroid, but you can deflect it. Setting off the nuke 50 meters above the asteroid's surface will vaporize a layer of rock on the surface. The force of that vaporized rock leaving the asteroid will impart a force just like a rocket; not as much as if the vapor was confined by a rocket bell, but enough to make a difference. And it would only take a few launches to put dozens of warheads on course. There are better options, but given our current technology level nukes are still the most likely to succeed.


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