WASHINGTON — One year ago today I was preparing to go on Fox 5 TV and discuss the very close approach of Asteroid 2012 DA14. I checked my iPad for updates and was amazed at the stories coming out of Chelyabinsk, Russia regarding a huge fireball.
I also made this event my top space story for 2013 as it was historic due to the number of injuries and damage to buildings it caused – the most ever recorded due to a asteroid/meteorite event. Chelyabinsk would go on to be the most documented meteorite fall ever because of the number of videos, sound recordings, photographs, witness interviews and the precise recovery process of associated meteorites, three of which I own.
In the year that has passed we have learned much about not only the Chelyabinsk impactor and the threat posed by asteroids in general. Scientific papers have been written and more will surely follow. Chelyabinsk was a watershed event in the history of asteroids and impacts because of all the data gathered and the analysis that followed.
Chelyabinsk has also improved our knowledge regarding the threat posed by asteroids that are smaller than a kilometer. The smaller asteroids like Chelyabinsk pose a greater hazard for damage than previously thought.
Efforts to defend ourselves against asteroids (and comets) has taken on new life, which can be seen in this essay by Ed Lu of the B612 Foundation. Efforts are underway by the United Nations and NASA to develop defensive capability as well as improved detection of the millions of Chelyabinsk-sized asteroids out there.
One thing we know for certain is that we will be hit again. If we get good enough at detection and defensive capabilities – after all space is a very big place and we are talking about millions of potential impactors – we might be able to deflect or destroy the incoming impactor or absent those possibilities, evacuate the impact zone.
We have had our warnings. We need to heed them and prepare. We do not want to go the way of the dinosaurs or have a Tunguska or larger impact event involving a major city. The dice of chance and the passage of time are never ending. So must be humanity’s collective efforts to defend ourselves.