Well, it's about time. Asteroids hitting Earth has been a big problem for life this planet since forever, and at last governments around the world have been united in their inability to give a shit. And they did it without Gort the giant robot forcing them! Next year, the Canadian Space Agency will launch the Near Earth Object Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat), the first space-borne asteroid hunting device ever made.
If a comet or asteroid doesn't slam into the planet between now and then, ending civilization, it will greatly improve our chances of killing ourselves off, instead of being snuffed out by some cosmic accident. Thank you, Canucks.
As this New Scientist article says, astronomers on the ground have been looking for potentially threatening asteroids for decades, but even a small space telescope like NEOSSat will really help us out:
Scientists are using ground-based telescopes to track down more of the near-Earth objects (NEOs) to determine if any could potentially hit the planet in the foreseeable future. But some of these objects are difficult to see from the ground.
t will rely on a telescope with a 15-centimetre mirror, smaller than many backyard telescopes used by amateur astronomers. Chief scientists for the mission are Alan Hildebrand of the University of Calgary and Brad Wallace of Defence Research and Development Canada.
Despite its modest dimensions, the spacecraft's unique vantage point in space may allow it to spot objects that are difficult to see from the ground.
Most of the NEOs found so far have elongated orbits that extend far away from the Sun. But some never venture much beyond Earth's orbit.
These stay close to the Sun in the sky, meaning they must be observed when the Sun is not far below the horizon - before sunrise and after sunset. At those times, the glow of the sky can make the objects hard to see.
Operating above the atmosphere, NEOSSat will have a clearer view of such objects. It is expected to catalogue at least 50% of the ones that span more than 1 kilometre.
These close-in objects are more dangerous than their more far-flung siblings because they spend more time in the vicinity of Earth, where there is the potential for a collision, says Timothy Spahr. An astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US, Spahr co-authored a 2007 NASA report to the US Congress on the risk to Earth from NEOs.
NEOSSat only weighs about 60kg and cost $10 million to build...about what it costs for a candy bar in the Pentagon cafeteria. And for that pittance all we get is an unprecedented level of interplanetary defense. We owe you one, Canada.