Worried that an asteroid is going to smash into Earth one day? You should be. There are as many as 6,200 near-Earth asteroids in our galaxy’s main asteroid belt, and they’re really hard to see because they don’t reflect a lot of light. So how are we supposed to protect our planet from these all but invisible hazardous flying space rocks?
Luckily, researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (the guys that brought you the Mars Curiosity Rover; remember them?) have been using a Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) telescope to get a better picture of these flying rocks based on the heat they emit. WISE scans the entire sky using infrared light, picking up the glow and taking images of hundreds of millions of objects that are next to impossible to see otherwise, “including the coolest stars, the universe’s most luminous galaxies, and some of the darkest near-Earth asteroids and comets.” The result is the most detailed map we’ve ever had of the location and orbital path of potentially hazardous asteroids, meaning we can track these suckers and blast them to smithereens before they get us.
Here’s what JPL says about the project:
“The closest of WISE’s finds will be near-Earth objects, both asteroids and comets, with orbits that come close to crossing Earth’s path. The mission is expected to find hundreds of these bodies, and hundreds of thousands of additional asteroids in our solar system’s main asteroid belt. By measuring the objects’ infrared light, astronomers will get the first good estimate of the size distribution of the asteroid population. This information will tell us approximately how often Earth can expect an encounter with a potentially hazardous asteroid. WISE data will also reveal new information about the composition of near-Earth objects and asteroids — are they fluffy like snow or hard like rocks, or both?”
We can still blast them to smithereens, right?
Source: WISE Overview