In February, a meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, within 17,000 miles of Earth’s surface. It was spotted not by NASA or any of the world’s other space agencies but by an amateur astronomer in Spain, who was powerless to stop the 150-foot-wide rock from exploding over the Ural Mountains. It shattered windows across roughly 650,000 square feet of land. More than 1,000 people were injured, mostly by shattered glass.
Although just a few hours of notice could have helped residents of Chelyabinsk mightily, no observatory on Earth was equipped to detect it, even though the technology is readily available. For years astronauts such as Ed Lu and Rusty Schweickart, who cofounded the private nonprofit B612 Foundation to hunt asteroids, have pushed to develop early-warning systems for rogue asteroids. Now, the United Nations is heeding the call.
Last week the General Assembly approved a set of measures to protect the planet from killer asteroids. The U.N. is forming an “International Asteroid Warning Group” for member nations to share intelligence on potentially hazardous asteroids, Scientific American reports. If a threatening space rock is detected, the U.N.’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space will help coordinate a mission to deflect it, launching a spacecraft to slam into the object before it reaches Earth.
The move comes as one of the first steps suggested by members of the Association of Space Explorers, a collection of people interested in deflecting errant space rocks. “No government in the world today has explicitly assigned the responsibility for planetary protection to any of its agencies,” said Schweickart, speaking at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City on Friday. “NASA does not have an explicit responsibility to deflect an asteroid, nor does any other space agency.”
An Anderson Cooper segment earlier this month highlighted the scale of the problem: Scientists say there are more than 1 million near-Earth objects in space big enough to destroy a city, but that they only know where 1 percent of them are. The question is what to do about it. While the ASE advocates every nation delegating responsibility for asteroid preparedness to an internal agency, Schweickart’s organization, the B612 Foundation, isn’t waiting for a government-funded program.
The group is planning its own infrared space telescope, the Sentinel, which will launch in 2017 or 2018 if the money can be raised in time. The development and launch is expected to cost $450 million, an ambitious budget for a private organization.
Next ASE astronauts will ask the U.N. to set up a means for practicing asteroid deflection, so that we’re not reliant on untried technologies, should an emergency occur. Speaking at Friday’s museum event, Lu put it this way: “Chelyabinsk was bad luck,” he said. “If we get hit again 20 years from now, that is not bad luck — that’s stupidity.”
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When it comes to name-calling among America's upper echelon of politicians, there may be perhaps no greater spat than the one currently going on between Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Donald Trump. While receiving an award Tuesday night, she continued a months-long feud with the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. Calling him a "small, insecure moneygrubber" who probably doesn't know three things about Dodd-Frank, she said he "will NEVER be president of the United States," according to her prepared remarks."We don't know what Trump pays in taxes because he is the first presidential nominee in 40 years to refuse to disclose his tax returns. Maybe he’s just a lousy businessman who doesn’t want you to find out that he’s worth a lot less money than he claims." It follows a long-line of Warren attacks over Twitter, Facebook and in interviews that Trump is a sexist, racist, narcissistic loser. In reply, Trump has called Warren either "goofy" or "the Indian"—referring to her controversial assertion of her Native American heritage.
The House on Tuesday voted 403-12 "to pass an overhaul to the nation’s chemical safety standards for the first time in four decades. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act aims to answer years of complaints that the Environmental Protection Agency lacks the necessary authority to oversee and control the thousands of chemicals being produced and sold in the United States. It also significantly clamps down on states’ authorities, in an effort to stop a nationwide patchwork of chemical laws that industry says is difficult to deal with."
"Leaders of the Republican Party have begun internal deliberations over making fundamental changes to the way its presidential nominees are chosen, a recognition that the chaotic process that played out this year is seriously flawed and helped exacerbate tensions within the party." Among the possible changes: forbidding independent voters to cast ballots in Republican primaries, and "doubling the number of early states to eight."
Citing the unpredictable nature of this primary season and the possible leverage they could bring at the convention, John Kasich is hanging onto his 161 delegates. "Kasich sent personal letters Monday to Republican officials in the 16 states and the District of Columbia where he won delegates, requesting that they stay bound to him in accordance with party rules."
"Speaker Paul Ryan is changing the rules of how the House will consider spending measures to try to prevent Democrats from offering surprise amendments that have recently put the GOP on defense. ... Ryan announced at a House GOP conference meeting Tuesday morning that members will now have to submit their amendments ahead of time so that they are pre-printed in the Congressional Record, according to leadership aides." The change will take effect after the Memorial Day recess.