NASA has a new ‘Intruder Alert’ system that warns researchers when a near-Earth-object (NEO) is risky. Called Scout, this alert is the brainchild of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory researchers, and it works by constantly watching sky data for signs of an NEO. When one is spotted, Scout does some quick math to figure out if the celestial object is potentially dangerous or no big deal.
The sky data is culled from telescopes that are always watching the space around Earth. Assuming one of the NEOs are determined to be potentially dangerous, Scout will let telescopes know to pay attention to it, providing more data that can then be used to refine the calculations and determine whether an ‘intrusion’ is possible. This is just the latest of many efforts on NASA’s part to monitor and protect Earth from asteroid impacts.
This system has already proven useful, and no doubt will continue to do so in the future. As one example, a celestial object came close to Earth, relatively speaking, last night. However, Scout had determined that it wasn’t a risk for our planet and informed researchers thusly. Ultimately the space rock whizzed by Earth some 310k miles away.
Such technology is a vital part of NASA’s efforts to not only monitor NEOs and determine when Earth is at risk, but also eventually implement technology that could divert such objects. Agencies around the world have participated in this effort, collectively united in the goal of avoiding extinction at the hands of some massive future asteroid.
All sorts of ideas have been tossed around, some more serious and sensible than others. One idea, for example, was the possibility of nuking an Earth-bound asteroid before it could hit our planet. Others have suggested lasers could be used in the (distant) future, while others have developed concepts that could basically alter the asteroid’s course so that it continues on its way, but in a direction that doesn’t put humanity at risk.
While Scout keeps an eye out for ‘small’ asteroids and similar space rocks, another similar technology called Sentry is tasked with monitoring for big ones — the kind that could take out a giant metropolitan city, for example. So far, NASA has spotted between a quarter and 35-percent of these massive NEOs, but it hopes to one day find and monitor at least 90-percent of them.