Asteroids crashing into the Earth is a doomsday scenario fiction avidly covers but is also very possible. Luckily, NASA is on top of it and revealed a new plan to stop “doomsday asteroids,” should they become a reality.
The Sun shared specifics, citing NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) software as the hero we all need. This special software detects potentially dangerous asteroids that could hit Earth. Though the organization previously had software to help calculate this, it recently upgraded the 20-year-old failsafe with a new algorithm. Dubbed Sentry-II, it not only detects asteroids in the vicinity but asteroids that could arrive years in the future.
The latter is something called the Yarkovsky effect. The phenomenon is when an asteroid absorbs sunlight and then emits it as heat. This may not sound significant, but the heat can actually affect the asteroid’s path. This means it could veer the rock more toward Earth or further away.
The previous software, Sentry, couldn’t detect the Yarkovsky effect, limiting its effectiveness. A JPL navigation engineer, Davide Farnocchia, stated “The fact that Sentry couldn’t automatically handle the Yarkovsky effect was a limitation.” Before Sentry-II, scientists had to manually calculate the Yarkovsky effect.
Though NASA avidly watches for asteroids, they hope the updated software can help spot asteroids they missed. For reference, as of now, NASA knows of 28,000 near-Earth asteroids. With the discovery of thousands of asteroids every year, the extra help through Sentry-II is undoubtedly appreciated.
Additionally, NASA hopes to launch its Near-Earth Object (NEO) Surveyor mission in 2026. When that occurs, they will finally have a space-faring craft dedicated to hunting down asteroids.
NASA Developed an Asteroid-Watching Tool You Can Enjoy at Home
For the longest time, peering at asteroids was only something those with deep pockets or huge telescopes could do. However, NASA recently developed a new asteroid-watching tool, allowing all of us to do so from the comfort of our own homes.
Eyes on Asteroids is the tool’s name and lets you look at asteroids and comets that approach Earth’s general area and orbit. On top of that, you can view different spacecraft that visit these objects. The best part? It’s all a click or swipe away. NASA states all you’ll need to enjoy it is an internet connection, no downloads are required.
That’s not all, though. You can view current missions concerning NEOs too. To do so, select the “events” tab and it will recreate missions NASA underwent or is currently doing. For instance, a recent mission was their Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) to nudge an asteroid and prevent it from colliding with Earth.
The organization states they want “Eyes on Asteroids to be as user-friendly as possible.” If you haven’t already seen it, I highly recommend checking it out.