In late July, a record-setting asteroid hurtled just 40,400 miles over Earth, the largest space rock to come so close in a century. But perhaps more alarming than the flyby itself is how much it caught NASA by surprise, according to internal agency documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.
Spotted just 24 hours before a relatively narrow miss with Earth, the incident reveals holes in NASA’s surveillance network to observe incoming space rocks. The football-field-sized asteroid, dubbed “2019 OK,” is also drawing attention to decades of congressional failures to fix the problem, experts say. ...
The near-miss of the incoming asteroid points to a long-running fight between NASA and Congress to build a reliable way to watch for “potentially hazardous” asteroids. Lawmakers ordered the space agency to detect 90% of hazardous asteroids in a 2005 law, but they haven’t funded telescopes and spacecraft that are large enough to do the job, the US National Academies of Sciences concluded in a June report.
“It's no surprise an object like that would take us by surprise,” MIT planetary scientist Richard Binzel told BuzzFeed News. “Our current asteroids search capabilities are not up to the level they should be.” ...
Binzel and other outside experts suggest the real lesson of 2019 OK is that Congress should fund a dedicated surveillance satellite, now awaiting $40 million to go ahead with its design, equipped with an infrared telescope to spot incoming asteroids without facing the hassles of weather, the moon, or peering through the obscuring atmosphere like telescopes on the ground.
Now, NASA finally wants to launch a satellite to spot dangerous asteroids, after we narrowly missed getting hit by one, Buzzfeed and Space.com report.
“We are finally going to rely on knowledge, rather than luck, as our plan for dealing with hazardous asteroids,” MIT planetary scientist Richard Binzel told BuzzFeed News. “NASA’s commitment to a space-based asteroid survey is a huge step forward for anyone who cares about human destiny.”
Story Image: Ben Kothe / BuzzFeed News; Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit: Disease Biophysics Group, Harvard University