Extinction Level Event Pushed Back A Bit

According to Forbes mankind has just gotten one step farther away from total annihilation and you can thank a team of University of Rochester scientists consisting of Craig McMurtry, a senior engineer, Judith Pipher, professor emerita, and Bill Forrest, professor emeritus, and NASA’s Amy Mainzer, the principal investigator for not one but two Jet Propulsion Laboratory missions designed to survey space for asteroids and comets, for saving your sorry butts.

In a paper to be published in The Astronomical Journal, this group of superheros prove they have determined the best parking orbit for their proposed NEOCam satellite. NEOCam (Near-Earth Object Camera) would need to park at a point designated Earth-Sun L1 Lagrange, a Lagrangian point roughly 1.5 million kilometers from the earth. This point was found to be optimal for several reasons, among them the satelite’s abilitiy to communicate with Earth. At this range NEOCam will be able to transmite movies of tracked objects to the tune of 150megs per second.Temprature is another reason.

The NEOCam will carry a new form of infrared detector capable of functioning at 40 degrees Kelvin (that’s roughly minus 400, yes, 400 degrees Fahrenheit.) Traditional long range infrared detectors have to be artificially cooled to 10 Kelvin.

In our solar system there are believed to be millions of as yet undetected asteroids, many of them literal planets killers. Giant hunks of rock and iron, miles and miles across, capable of planetary impacts that would unleash more megaton explosive damage in one strike than has been unleashed by all of mankind in all of human history. This is including nukes. Of the 12,000 known NEO’s (Near_Earth Objects) some 900 are planet killers. NEOCam would be tasked with finding and cataloging the orbits of 90% of all NEO’s larger than 140 meters in the next five years.Currently it is believed that only 25% have been identified. The team believes that NEOCam could discover as many as 100,000 NEO’s, some 13,000 of which would be larger than 100 meters. From the L1 position NEOCam will be able to see objects ranging from days away from impact to hundreds of years away from impact.

Our ancestors were helpless in the face of such potentially catastrophic near-Earth objects. As the first generation to possess the technology to counter such threats, it only seems prudent that NASA invest in humanity’s own self-preservation.

That last paragraph is a direct quote from the Forbes article and, for me, the single most heartening piece of this article. The innovations and amazing work being done by these scientists is, well, amazing. And as a species we cant thank them enough and I don’t want to at all take away from that. But to have a mainstream, widely respected, business publication, make a statement like that, even if it shifted the burden of mankind’s protection a bit off the shoulders of the species and onto the shoulders of a few scientists, well, I’m hoping that shows that maybe, just maybe, we are finally starting to head, as a people, in the right direction.

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