Earth Has A Blind Spot In Our Planetary Threat Detection System


Kay Smythe News and Commentary Writer
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An asteroid the size of a truck that flew past Earth on Thursday shows that Earth has a blind spot in our planetary defense.

The asteroid, named Asteroid 2023 BU, was discovered less than a week before it flew closer to Earth than many of our satellites by an amateur astronomer. Despite proving our ability to change the course of an asteroid’s trajectory in 2022, NASA and other major organizations somehow missed its orbit toward our little planet.

The event highlighted a blind spot in our planetary defense, an issue that could cause legitimate damage into the future, astronomers said, according to Reuters. NASA typically prioritizes the detection and tracking of much larger asteroids. Asteroid 2023 BU was around the size of a truck, so it was assumed that if it was heading for a collision with Earth, it would have broken into smaller pieces before hitting the surface.

So-called smaller asteroids, that reach the size of an Olympic swimming pool, are harder to detect until they’re a lot closer to our planet, Reuters reported. This detection timing issue complicates efforts to brace for a potential impact in populated areas in the future.

While statistics suggest that a 5-meter sized asteroid (meteor once it enters our atmosphere) only strikes once a year, and a 50-meter sized rock hits once every 1,000, many astronomers think that relying on these probabilities creates an unnecessary risk that could easily be mitigated with improvements to our detection capabilities, Reuters noted.

“We don’t know where most of the asteroids are that can cause local to regional devastation,” John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory planetary scientist Terik Daly told Reuters. “How many natural hazards are there that we could actually do something about and prevent for a billion dollars? There’s not many.” (RELATED: If The Largest Asteroid Near Earth Hit Us, Here’s What It Would Look Like)

NASA intends to launch the $1.2 billion NEO Surveyor telescope that is currently under development as a major upgrade to our planetary defense systems, Reuters continued. The telescope will be sent up nearly a million miles from Earth, and will be able to survey a significant field in our immediate space.

“With Surveyor, we’re really focusing on finding the one asteroid that could cause a really bad day for a lot of people,” NEO Surveyor principal investigator Amy Mainzer told Reuters. “But we’re also tasked with getting good statistics on the smaller objects, down to about the size of the Chelyabinsk object.”

Chelyabinsk was a roughly 20-meter sized meteor that exploded in our atmosphere in 2013, causing a shockwave that caused $33 million in damages, including shattering tens of thousands of windows in the region of the same name in Russia. No one saw Chelyabinsk before it entered our atmosphere.