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NASA is finally moving forward with a space telescope that could spot asteroids heading dangerously close to Earth.

The Near-Earth Object Surveyor Mission — NEO Surveyor, for short — has passed a key review, and NASA announced Friday that it’s moving it to the next stage of development. Now engineers can start building new parts for the telescope, thereby keeping the mission on track for a 2026 launch.

“I’m over the moon,” Amy Mainzer, who leads the project, told Insider. “We are excited to do our part to help cross the asteroid-impact issue off the world’s list of worries.”

To protect the planet from an incoming asteroid, experts estimate they’d need five to 10 years’ warning that a space rock was headed our way. Right now, an asteroid could easily approach Earth without anyone seeing it, since telescopes on the ground can only do limited surveillance.

“What you want to do is find them early, find them as early as possible — as in years, or even decades, before they pose a threat,” Paul Chodas, the manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, previously told Insider. “The dinosaurs didn’t have a space program, and look what happened to them. We have a space program. And given enough time, we can do something about this threat.”

NEO Surveyor would help NASA catalogue nearby asteroids and chart their paths through the solar system, so that someday — if necessary — humanity may have a shot at destroying or deflecting any space rocks on a collision path with Earth.

For years, work on this kind of infrared telescope had been caught in “NASA mission limbo hell,” MIT astronomer Richard Binzel previously told Insider. Now the project is finally moving forward.

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NASA needs a space telescope to defend Earth from city-crushing asteroids

Experts from around the world practiced for a hypothetical asteroid strike in April. It didn’t go well.

At the Planetary Defense Conference, a group of 200 participants from about two dozen countries worked through a hypothetical scenario in which an asteroid was set to crash into Earth in six months. They determined that no existing technologies could stop the space rock, since the time frame was too short to launch a mission that could destroy or deflect an asteroid.

Without a space telescope like NEO Surveyor, it’s very possible that an asteroid could sneak up on our planet like the one in the April simulation. It has already happened a few times.

In 2013, a house-sized asteroid screamed into the skies above Chelyabinsk, Russia and exploded. The blast sent out a shock wave that broke windows, damaged buildings, and injured more than 1,400 people. No one on Earth saw it coming. That same day, a larger asteroid came within 17,000 miles of the planet.

Jim Bridenstine, who served as the Trump administration’s NASA Administrator, said in 2019 that the agency’s modeling suggests an event like the Chelyabinsk meteor occurs about every 60 years.

But the Chelyabinsk rock was small — about …read more

Source:: Business Insider

      

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