Video evidence of 26 atom-bomb-scale asteroid impacts since 2000

April 23, 2014
An artist's impression of an asteroid breaking up. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

At a press conference on Tuesday at the Museum of Flight, three prominent astronauts supporting the B612 Foundation presented a visualization of new data showing the surprising frequency at which the Earth is hit by asteroids. The astronauts were guests of the Seattle Museum for a special series of public events on Earth Day 2014.

Dr. Ed Lu, former US shuttle and Soyuz astronaut and co-founder and CEO of the B612 Foundation was joined by former NASA astronaut Tom Jones, President of the Association of Space Explorers and Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders, first chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and former chairman and CEO of General Dynamics to discuss findings recently released from the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, which operates a network of sensors that monitors Earth around the clock listening for the infrasound signature of nuclear detonations.

Between 2000 and 2013, this network detected 26 explosions on Earth ranging in energy from 1 to 600 kilotons—all caused not by nuclear explosions, but rather by impacts. To put that in perspective, the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945 exploded with an energy impact of 15 kilotons. While most of these asteroids exploded too high in the atmosphere to do serious damage on the ground, the evidence is important in estimating the frequency of a potential "city-killer-size"
asteroid.

The Earth is continuously colliding with fragments of asteroids, the largest in recent times exploding over Tunguska, Siberia, in 1908 with an energy impact of 5-15 megatons. More recently, we witnessed the 600-kiloton impact in Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013, and asteroid impacts greater than 20 kilotons occurred in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, in 2009, in the Southern Ocean in 2004, and in the Mediterranean Sea in 2002.

Important to note as well is the fact that none of these asteroids were detected or tracked in advance by any existing space-based or terrestrial observatory.

Also attending the press conference in Seattle were students from Key Peninsula Middle School. In addition, astronauts Ed Lu, Tom Jones, and Bill Anders joined Museum of Flight CEO Doug King to visit the Challenger Center at the Museum of Flight to discuss asteroids and space-related assets to detect and track asteroids and field questions from the students.

"While most large asteroids with the potential to destroy an entire country or continent have been detected, less than 10,000 of the more than a million dangerous asteroids with the potential to destroy an entire major metropolitan area have been found by all existing space or terrestrially-operated observatories," stated Lu. "Because we don't know where or when the next major impact will occur, the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a 'city-killer' sized asteroid has been blind luck."

The B612 Foundation aims to change that by building the Sentinel Space Telescope Mission, an early warning infrared space telescope for tracking asteroids that would provide many years to deflect an asteroid when it is still millions of miles away. The B612 Sentinel Mission will be the world's first privately funded deep space mission that will create the first comprehensive dynamic map of our inner solar system, identifying the current and future locations and trajectories of Earth crossing asteroids. Sentinel will detect and track more than 200,000 asteroids in just the first year of operation, after a planned launch in 2018.

Explore further: Asteroid hunters want to launch private telescope (Update)

Related Stories

2 space rocks hours apart point up the danger

February 16, 2013

(AP)—A space rock even bigger than the meteor that exploded like an atom bomb over Russia could drop out of the sky unannounced at any time and wreak havoc on a city. And Hollywood to the contrary, there isn't much the ...

Time for Europe to beef up asteroid vigilance, ESA says

February 21, 2013

Europe must strengthen its watch for dangerous space rocks, the head of the European Space Agency's asteroid surveillance programme said Thursday, a week after a meteor struck Russia in a blinding fireball.

Asteroid threat has Congress' attention

April 15, 2013

As if you don't have enough to worry about, consider the subject of a hearing last week on Capitol Hill: asteroids that may be headed toward Earth. The good news: NASA is tracking most of the largest asteroids - the kind ...

Astronauts to reveal sobering data on asteroid impacts

April 17, 2014

This Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, three former NASA astronauts will present new evidence that our planet has experienced many more large-scale asteroid impacts over the past decade than previously thought… three to ten ...

Recommended for you

New Horizons team selects potential Kuiper Belt flyby target

August 29, 2015

NASA has selected the potential next destination for the New Horizons mission to visit after its historic July 14 flyby of the Pluto system. The destination is a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits ...

Prawn Nebula: Cosmic recycling

September 2, 2015

Dominating this image is part of the nebula Gum 56, illuminated by the hot bright young stars that were born within it. For millions of years stars have been created out of the gas in this nebula, material which is later ...

Image: Hubble sees a youthful cluster

August 31, 2015

Shown here in a new image taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) on board the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope is the globular cluster NGC 1783. This is one of the biggest globular clusters in the Large Magellanic ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.