One hundred years ago, a large meteoroid or comet exploded in the sky over Tunguska, Siberia. We don’t know that much about it: Estimates on size vary from 30 to 1,200 meters in diameter, and estimates on the force of the blast are in a range of 3 to 30 megatons of TNT (“about 1,000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima”). But we do know that the explosion leveled trees over 2,150 square kilometers (830 square miles)…
Photograph from the Soviet Academy of Science 1927 expedition led by Leonid Kulik. Public domain.
To coincide with this anniversary, the Planetary Society has launched the Target Earth project, a year-long focus on “on Near Earth Objects (NEOs) and the hazards that marauding space-rocks pose to our planet.”
Target Earth encompasses The Planetary Society’s three-pronged approach to NEO research: funding researchers who discover and track asteroids, advocating greater NEO research funding by the government, and helping spur the development of possible ways to avert disaster should a potentially dangerous asteroid be discovered.
You can learn more about the Gene Shoemaker NEO Grants here. Some quick facts:
To date, the Society has awarded 29 Shoemaker NEO grants totaling more than $184,000 to observers around the world. Grant recipients have played critical roles in tracking small asteroids that were discovered by major asteroid survey programs, and providing the crucial follow-up observations to determine precise orbits for these objects. They have also contributed NEO discoveries and characterizations of the properties of NEOs.
Another project is the Apophis Mission Design Competition. It aims to create a way to “tag” certain dangerous near Earth asteroids so that we can better track them and, if necessary, take action to avoid catastrophe. The Planetary Society is offering $50,000 in prize money, you can read the rules of the competition here.
According to a Plantary Society press release: “NASA currently has no plans to study methods of asteroid deflection, or how to tag an asteroid for precise tracking.” But at least they are, along with the European Space Agency (ESA), co-sponsoring the Society’s Apophis competition and will study the best mission designs.
If you are concerned about the dangers that NEOs represent, I encourage you to consider contributing to the Planetary Society’s efforts. You can specify which programs you want your funds to be used for. I suggest Near Earth Objects Research or Apophis Mission Competition.
- Target Earth
- Planetary Society Takes Aim at Target Earth
- Shoemaker NEO Grants
- Apophis Mission Design Competition
- Tunguska event at Wikipedia