A small office at Iowa State University is devoted to studying asteroids and finding ways to keep them from hitting Earth. I.S.U. professor emeritus John Basart says the Asteroid Deflection Research Center wasn’t too well known — at least until an asteroid exploded over Russia in February, damaging hundreds of buildings and injuring more than 15-hundred people.
“In general, the public ignores this sort of thing but after that blow-up over Russia, oh yes, there became a lot of interest in trying to deflect asteroids to keep them from hitting us,” Basart says. “Of course, one went by us that day, which was known years in advance that it would and that it would not hit us, but the fact that both things happened on one day is quite a coincidence.”
The meteor that missed us passed within about 17,00 miles of Earth. The experts say, if it had hit our planet, it would have carried the equivalent of 160 Hiroshima nuclear bombs. Our planet is bombarded by small meteorites daily, but Basart says it’s not a question of “if” we’ll see another strike on the scale that wiped out the dinosaurs, but “when.”
“This is just the nature of the universe,” Basart says. “I think it’s becoming a little more clear to the public that the universe really is a very violent place.” While we’re hearing a lot more lately about meteor strikes, Basart says it’s only because we’re becoming more aware of them, not because more pieces of flaming rock are reaching our atmosphere.
“More people are populating the surface of the earth so when an event like this happens, it’s more likely it’s going to be seen,” Basart says. “There are lots of sensors, astronomers studying this, spacecraft studying these things, so it’s more likely that we’ll see every one of these things that happens. That has changed awareness a lot also.”
A team from the ISU office will be addressing NASA officials in Washington D-C next month. The space agency is considering a proposal for a $500-million test launch of an asteroid intercept system.