It’s too late to save the dinosaurs, but it’s not too late for us. If a large asteroid were to collide with Earth, the effects would be catastrophic; humans would varyingly drown, explode, burn up, or be crushed. Nobody wants that, and luckily there’s a new organization in town to help make sure it doesn’t happen: the B612 Asteroid Institute.
The institute will gather scientists from all over the world to conduct research and develop technology to forward its central mission: the “discovery and deflection of asteroids.” The organization will operate under the umbrella of the B612 Foundation, which has long been a leader in the “planetary defense” field, i.e. the area of study with the coolest name.
Some of the institute’s projects will include using the B612 Asteroid Decision Analysis Machine (ADAM) to integrate global asteroid data and identify whether or not a detected asteroid poses a threat; further development of the synthetic tracking technique that finds small asteroids; and “planning for a future small satellite constellation for detecting and tracking these smaller asteroids,” as described in a press release.
The asteroid threat may seem abstract, but it’s real. In 2013, an asteroid that hit Chelyabinsk, Russia, injured almost 1,500 people. And in early January, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released a document that warned of undetected, dangerous asteroids: “Current estimates of the NEO [near-Earth objects] population predict that over 300,000 objects greater than 40 meters in size could be an impact hazard to the Earth and have not yet been detected.”
However, there’s a lot of hope. In fact, researcher Carrie Nugent calls asteroids “the only natural disaster that we can prevent.”
Scientists can trace an asteroid’s path hundreds of years into the future (once they have gathered enough data about it), so we have a long opportunity to act after spotting a threat. And there’s a lot we can do to stop an asteroid, like blow it up, or use a gravity tractor or kinetic impactor to change its course.
In order to employ any of those defense mechanisms, though, we first have to develop the appropriate technology and locate the asteroids that are due to hit Earth. That’s where the B612 Asteroid Institute comes in; our fate may be in its hands.