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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: natural disasters
By FaaR on 3/20/2013 5:42:15 PM , Rating: 2
If we had 1+ year's warning, there's some stuff we could do. Paint the object white/highly reflective would be one thing, causing light pressure to push it into a different orbit that would miss the earth for example.

Since the force involved with that is extremely weak we'd need a lot of time (distance, really, but that's essentially one and the same thing in cosmological terms) for something like that to work, but it's a simple, reliable solution. Just essentially fire bags of paint at the asteroid and let nature/physics take its course. K.I.S.S...


RE: natural disasters
By Reclaimer77 on 3/20/2013 6:20:55 PM , Rating: 2
Honestly question here, but what if the object is spinning rapidly off-axis? Wouldn't that negate the light pressure effect?

Also it would probably take us over a year just to get a project like that going lol.

In all honesty the OP is probably right. There's just nothing we can do at this point.


RE: natural disasters
By FaaR on 3/20/2013 6:30:06 PM , Rating: 2
We'd need to paint as much of the asteroid as possible of course. If it is spinning (which it pretty much unavoidably has to do), we'd spread out the painting procedure over the course of a number of revolutions, to cover more surface.


RE: natural disasters
By Spuke on 3/20/2013 6:57:11 PM , Rating: 1
Why does it have to white paint?


RE: natural disasters
By sigmatau on 3/20/2013 7:24:51 PM , Rating: 2
Ya, I would have thought it would be black paint so it can absorb as much light as possible.


RE: natural disasters
By Reclaimer77 on 3/20/2013 7:36:08 PM , Rating: 2
You don't want to absorb the light though. The theory is that light will reflect off the white painted surface, resulting in enough force to oh-so-slightly alter the trajectory of the object.

I certainly wouldn't be willing to risk the future of man on such an untested and iffy concept, but there you have it.


RE: natural disasters
By siliconvideo on 3/21/2013 8:20:47 AM , Rating: 2
Check out the Crookes radiometer, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crookes_radiometer, it spins with only sunlight shinning on it. Same principle can be used to move space rocks


RE: natural disasters
By JPForums on 3/21/2013 9:11:07 AM , Rating: 2
That said, the force from light is so small that if it isn't applied consistently for a great enough amount of time, the impact force from the mass of the paint would have a greater effect on trajectory. Perhaps transporting a high mass object would be more beneficial than paint. Find the meteor soon enough and it doesn't really take much to alter its course to a more favorable one. We don't necessarily need nukes or bombs in general. Any object impacting far enough away (at the correct trajectory) would alter its course.


RE: natural disasters
By JediJeb on 3/21/2013 9:05:21 PM , Rating: 2
I also don't see the paint trick working well enough to alter an objects orbit. If you think about comets, they have pretty predictable orbits even though while they are near the sun they are spewing quite a bit of mass out into space which should drastically alter their course if something as simple as painting the surface white would do it.

Something the size of what hit Russia could be moved with something we can build, but something larger like those larger than a house, could even an F1 engine firing continuously attached to it actually alter it's course within a small time frame such as weeks?


RE: natural disasters
By Reclaimer77 on 3/21/2013 10:24:23 PM , Rating: 2
The Earth is moving at something like 67,000 miles per hour around the Sun. If we were to intercept the object from far enough away, and slow it down even a tiny bit, the Earth would then be out of it's way by the time it intersected our orbital trajectory.

Paint shmaint. Where's our orbital Railgun defense network? :P


RE: natural disasters
By Gondor on 3/21/2013 12:34:02 PM , Rating: 2
First of all, the link doesn't work correctly.

Second, if you read the article yourself you will surely notice explanation of device's operation, which has little to do with light but a lot to do with correct pressure (unavailable in space) and uneven coloring of the vanes (one side reflective and the other absorptive).

In other words: it won't work, not the way you thought it would.


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