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Astronomer: Infrared Telescope Could Track Deadly Asteroids

By Bill Hoffmann   |   Tuesday, 22 Apr 2014 02:09 PM

Huge asteroids are dangerous and plentiful — and they have the deadly potential to smash into Earth and destroy major cities, veteran astronomer Harold Reitsema says.

"We estimate every 100 years or so there is one that is enough explosive energy to wipe out a large metropolitan area, like New York City or Washington, D.C.," Reitsema told "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV.

"It could happen tomorrow or years from now or 20 years from now. Or maybe they'll all land in the ocean. We simply don't know," he said Tuesday.

Reitsema is mission director of the B612 Foundation, a privately funded scientific group that attempts to chart the paths of asteroids and target which ones could hit Earth.

The foundation is raising funds to build an infrared space telescope that will be able to track about 90 percent of the asteroids that are the largest threats.

"If we know one that's going to hit the Earth in 10 or 20 years, we can actually move it out of the way," he said. "There are perhaps as many as 1 million that could cause citywide, city-area-sized damage in the multiple kiloton and upwards explosive force."

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An infrared telescope would have the power to enable scientists to predict the position of an asteroid and how it would affect the Earth a century in the future.

"So we can look and see if any of these orbits intersect with the Earth over the next 100-year time frame. If we find one, we have plans for how to do mitigation," Reitsema said.

"For instance, we can do what was done with a mission that NASA flew called Deep Impact, where you take a satellite, a spacecraft, and you drive it straight into the asteroid at a high rate of speed."

He compared it to a speeding car or a bullet hitting a larger object and knocking it off course.

"It might only change it by a tiny fraction of its original speed, maybe by an inch per second or even less than that, but given 10 or 20 years at this new speed, it will actually come through the intersection of the Earth either a little bit before Earth gets there or a little bit after Earth gets there," Reitsema said.

"So, for the combination of having a little bit of change in the speed of the asteroid by this impact with a satellite and the fact there's a lot of time between that impact and when the collision with Earth is going to happen means that we can prevent the asteroid from hitting the Earth."

Is there any way to find out exactly where an asteroid will hit, such as a major city or a rural area?

"There's no prediction of where they might hit. There's no pattern to where they hit," he said.

"It's just blind luck where they hit."

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Huge asteroids are dangerous and plentiful - and they have the deadly potential to smash into Earth and destroy major cities, veteran astronomer Harold Reitsema says.
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