Deflection, Rather Than Defection

Since its inception in 1961, the B612 Foundation, based in Mountain View California, has had a simple but daunting task: how to defend the Earth from incoming asteroids. A meteor impact could do a lot of damage to the Earth. A small one would pack the punch of a nuclear warhead and devastate a city; larger ones could lay waste to whole regions or even continents. A collision with a giant asteroid, such as Vesta, would probably kill everything more complex than a bacterium. Obviously, the rewards of deflecting an incoming asteroid are well worth the effort.

We know that there are a lot of small asteroids zipping around out there; a few have recently buzzed the Earth. While they haven't caused any mischief so far, the asteroid we don't see is the one that's likely to make trouble.

NASA does track near earth objects; the WISE observatory sees to that. However, this telescope does not have the best vantage point, and can only cover so much of the sky. In addition, WISE is an infrared telescope tasked with exploring the far reaches of the universe. While it can scan for asteroids, this is not its primary purpose.

The foundation wants to put a more sensitive telescope in deep space, near the orbit of Venus. This vantage point would allow it to look at the space around Earth is broad swaths, which increases the chances of finding any asteroids which may be lurking.

The cost of the mission, which includes designing and fabricating the telescope, is estimated to be around 500 million dollars. That may be cheap compared to the cost of an asteroid impacting a city, but it's still a lot of money in its own right. In today's funding climate, the team may have trouble securing it.

Best of luck, and clear skies.

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