Using technology designed to track the detonation of nuclear weapons, space shuttle astronauts Ed Lu -CEO of the B612 Foundation- Tom Jones, and Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders found that since 2001, 26 asteroids have struck Earth in various remote locations with the force of atomic bomb explosions.
None of the 26 asteroids had been detected in advance.
Their findings, including a new video of the asteroid impacts, will be presented during a live-streaming press conference at the Museum of Flight in Seattle Tuesday morning at 11:30 am PDT.
Since only 28 percent of the Earth’s surface is land, and just one percent is populated, most asteroids strike remote areas or land in the ocean, researchers say.
But “the odds of a 100-megaton impact this century (and 100 megatons for scale is about five times all the bombs used in World War II, including the atomic weapons), the chance of that in your lifetime, or in this century, is one percent on a random spot somewheres on Earth,” Lu testified last March before a House Science subcommittee.
His testimony was a month after a streaking asteroid 60 miles from Chelyabinsk, Russia with the energy equivalent of 25 Hiroshima atomic bombs caused a sonic boom that shattered glass and injured hundreds of people. The previously undetected 10,000-ton asteroid, which was the size of a school bus travelling 40,000 mph, was captured on cell phones and posted to YouTube.
“The odds of a much smaller five-megaton impact like we had in Tunguksa [Siberia in 1908], an asteroid that would not quite fit in this room, is about 30 percent,” Lu told members of Congress.
“But for every one we know about, there’s about 100 more we don’t know about, and we simply don’t know when the next one’s going to hit the Earth because we don’t know where they are,” Lu testified.
“The Earth is really flying around the solar system in a cosmic shooting gallery, in some sense,” he told committee members. Lu is also a co-inventor of the Gravity Tractor, designed to alter the orbit of an Earth-bound asteroid.
There is currently “no comprehensive dynamic map of our inner solar system showing the positions and trajectories of these asteroids that might threaten Earth,” according to the non-profit foundation, which Lu co-founded in Silicon Valley in 2002.
In 2012, the foundation launched the Sentinel Mission “to detect and track the million asteroids with the potential to destroy any major city on Earth” by placing a $250 million infrared space telescope in orbit around the Earth by 2017, using corporate, private and philanthropic donations.
The foundation’s goal is to locate 90 percent of all near-Earth asteroids that are about 450 feet in diameter, and at least half of the smaller 130-foot-or-so asteroids that could still do considerable damage to human habitations.
Once potentially dangerous asteroids are identified, NASA says, “nuclear explosions and spacecraft impacts are two of the more mature options for deflecting Earth-threatening objects and they have been studied in some detail…
“But since the number of near-Earth asteroids increases as their sizes decrease, we are most likely to be hit by the relatively small objects that are difficult to find ahead of time.”