We have lots of things to worry about here on Earth, so the last thing anyone wants to do is fret over a possible threat from outer space. But that doesn’t mean those threats don’t exist. In fact, according to a recent announcement, there are now over 20,000 of them.
NASA and other space agencies have spent a long time trying to prevent any rogue asteroids from crashing into the Earth and obliterating all life as we know it. The first step, of course, is to know just how many asteroids in our solar system possibly threaten us and just how imposing they are.
This is harder than it sounds. Many asteroids are small, dark, moving quickly, or simply lurking in a part of the solar system that makes it hard for us to study them.
Still, it’s crucial that we locate as many asteroids as we can, because if we fail to find one on a crash course with the Earth, the consequences could be dire. The most recent large asteroid impact was the Chelyabinsk asteroid in 2013, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine recently remarked that an impact of that magnitude could occur once every 60 years or so.
To combat this threat, in 1998 Congress ordered a survey of every threatening asteroid above 1 kilometer in size, which NASA completed in 2005. Later, Congress also ordered surveys of even smaller-sized asteroids, and by 2013 the world’s space agencies had discovered around 10,000.
Now, six years later, that figure has doubled.
A recent announcement from the European Space Agency says that the total amount of asteroids potentially threatening Earth has increased to 20,022. That includes 208 asteroids discovered in the last month alone, and 731 discovered this year so far.
That’s a lot of asteroids! And the more of them we know about, the safer we’ll be. But it would be foolish to assume we’ve discovered all of them.
One thing that’s clear: Our solar system is far from being empty, and again, it’s full of all kinds of different asteroids. Eventually, a big one will come for us, and we can only hope to see it coming long enough in advance to enact some kind of plan to defend our planet. But other than that, everything is fine.
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics