Earth's Global Asteroid Defense System Passes First Test

Monday, 06 November 2017 - 10:27AM
Monday, 06 November 2017 - 10:27AM
Earth's Global Asteroid Defense System Passes First Test
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Image credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Hubble ESA
It isn't Bruce Willis, but it'll do. Earth's first global asteroid defense system just passed its first test with astounding results.

Ancient humans used to view asteroids as the harbingers of doom, and they weren't always necessarily wrong to do so. One large rock hurtling into the side of our beloved home planet would be all it would take to dramatically change the environment around the world, threatening the extinction of our entire planet.

Luckily, scientists have found that if there's one effective way of getting the global community to work together, it's to get them to face off against a common enemy - like, for example, a giant killer asteroid. As part of an ongoing remit to protect the world from astronomical devastation, a group of experts dotted around the world has undertaken the first test of our planet's shiny new planetary defense system.

Sadly, this system doesn't yet involve any Death Star inspired giant lasers that can be used to blast away rocky invaders like a real-life game of Asteroids, but it is interesting nonetheless.

The system involves cooperation between various significant scientific bodies, across boundaries of language, culture, and politics, in order to accurately track the movements of dangerous space rocks as they pass by our planet; it's thrilling that such cooperation is even possible between rival space agencies and research stations.

2012 TC4 is a large, but fairly benign asteroid that's been whizzing around the solar system for quite some time, first spotted near Earth in the year it was named for.

There was never any real danger that 2012 TC4 was going to crash into the Earth, but it passed by our planet closely enough that it was the perfect subject for a test of the emergency defense system.

As it shot past the Earth, telescopes, observatories, and satellites around the world examined its trajectory and journey, tracking it across the sky in an unprecedented act of global teamwork.

The test took place back in October, when 2012 TC4 buzzed past us at an altitude of 27,200 miles (safely far away from even out highest artificial satellites), but it's only now that an official breakdown of the test has been published, as scientists clap each other on the back for being able to play nice.

The final verdict: If 2012 TC4 had been in any way dangerous, humanity would have done well, working together to spot its hazardous path and giving humanity plenty of warning about the approaching end of the world.

We'd presumably also have had enough time to come up with some preventative measures, which could well have involved a space laser after all.

According to Boris Shustov, science director for the Institute of Astronomy at the Russian Academy of Sciences:

Opening quote
"The 2012 TC4 campaign was a superb opportunity for researchers to demonstrate willingness and readiness to participate in serious international cooperation in addressing the potential hazard to Earth posed by [near-Earth objects]. I am pleased to see how scientists from different countries effectively and enthusiastically worked together toward a common goal."
Closing quote

Considering that the future of space travel will likely involve a great deal more cooperation between these different bodies, as the international community transitions into an interstellar community, this is a triumph for humanity.

We successfully worked together to watch a big rock fly past our windows. Next step: put aside our differences long enough to build a moon base.
Global Asteroid Defense System Passes First Test