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B612 Foundation highlights the risk of city-destroying asteroids


April 23, 2014

The trail of last year's headline-grabbing meteorite near Chelyabinsk, Russia (Photo: Shutterstock)

The trail of last year's headline-grabbing meteorite near Chelyabinsk, Russia (Photo: Shutterstock)

Image Gallery (4 images)

The California-based B612 Foundation has released a video displaying the distribution of 26 multi-kiloton asteroid impacts known to have struck the Earth since the year 2000. Many of the impacts – detected by a network of satellites operated by the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization – exploded with a force greater than that of the city-leveling bomb dropped on Hiroshima, which had an explosive yield of 15 kilotons.

Our planet orbits the Sun alongside a swarm of asteroids. Most of these celestial wanderers pose no threat to Earth, however one need only observe the cratered face of the Moon to understand that, not only do asteroid impacts take place, but they do so with surprising regularity. In 2013 alone, one asteroid was caught on video striking the surface of the Moon, with another exploding in the sky over Chelyabinsk, Russia. The impact caused only superficial damage, but raised alarming questions as to what precautions we have in place to counter a potential asteroid strike.

The B612 Foundation satellite will will hold a Venus-like orbit (Image: Ball Aerospace)

Founded by astronauts Ed Lu and Rusty Schweickart, the B612 Foundation has the sole aim of creating an advance warning system for Earth against the ever-present threat of an impact from outer space. Following a meeting in October 2001 at NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, the team were satisfied that whilst the technology existed to manipulate the course of an asteroid thus deflecting it out of harm's way, such techniques would take time to put in place and ultimately to implement. Therefore, Earth required an early warning system.

The B612 Foundation, in conjunction with Ball Aerospace, intends to implement an infrared survey mission, which will catalog 90 percent of all asteroids larger than 140 m (459 ft) within the area of our solar system that may pose a realistic threat to our planet. The mission will run for six and a half years and will involve the commissioning and successful deployment of a Sentinel satellite, which will maintain a Venus-like orbit around the Sun, searching out and following up on asteroids with the potential to strike Earth.

An artist's impression of the Sentinel satellite (Image: Ball Aerospace)

“Mapping the presence of 1000's of near-Earth objects will create a new scientific database and greatly enhance our stewardship of the planet,” states Dr. Scott Hubbard, Architect of the B612 Foundation Program. With the use of infrared imaging equipment mounted aboard the Sentinel satellite, the foundation hopes that the mission will catalog roughly 500,000 near-Earth objects, as the satellite orbits the Sun once every seven months on its mission.

Once the project is complete, it is hoped that the Sentinel catalog will provide decades worth of early warning for potentially hazardous asteroids, allowing organizations such as NASA to develop and execute missions to avert a potentially devastating impact.

The video below displays the location and explosive yield of the 26 asteroids that have struck planet Earth since the year 2000.

Source: B612 Foundation

About the Author
Anthony Wood Anthony is a recent law school graduate who also has a degree in Ancient History, for some reason or another. Residing in the UK, Anthony has had a passion about anything space orientated from a young age and finds it baffling that we have yet to colonize the moon. When not writing he can be found watching American football and growing out his magnificent beard. All articles by Anthony Wood

I enjoyed studying impact hazards as part of my undergraduate degree; the main issue was that the US cut funding in the late 1990s to two vital programs that were focused on detecting and tracking asteroids that were in an Earth-crossing orbit: PACS and PCAS.

There is no government strategy, like in Deep Impact or Armageddon, to deal with the threat of an extinction level event.. and often we learn about these asteroids after the impact has happened or once the rock has missed us by a hair.

Facebook User

It's one of those "We have the technology" things. As it interests EVERYONE on the planet you'd think they could find some funding from the UN or equivalent. Are there any links to Zooniverse or Planetary Resources or are they independent again?

Craig Jennings

They should get a professional profit of doom (one that the media love showing) and have him announce the location of every multikiloton impact the day it happens.


There might be some detonations that have slipped through the net. There are 25 listed in the video, only seven of which were over land. Whilst the sea covers about 70% of the earth's surface, and would thus be expected to have a higher number of them; not two and half times as many, surely? Perhaps it is due to the small sample size.

Mel Tisdale


With the 26 strikes shown, that would be 19 over water and 7 over land.

That turns out to be around 63% over water and 37% over land.

So, 63% is actually a slightly lower percentage of impacts over water than expected, but it would probably even out with a larger sample size.

Rick Dorsey

Um, 7 out of 25 is 28% -- just about the expected percentage to be seen over land.


What are the odds that an airplane will hit my house? What are the odds that my doctor or nurse will make a fatal mistake? What are the odds that a drunk driver will hit me? What are the odds that an earthquake, tsunami, flood, volcano, hurricane or tornado will hit my neighborhood? What are the odds that fast food will kill me prematurely? Short version. How about a realistic priority list that we can most effectively spend money on? Being hit by an asteroid is pretty far down the list.


@ Bob

There are a lot of dangers that we have no control over. Seeing the multi-kiloton objects is not that difficult and tagging them with a missile is not difficult if we have a few days warning. and if we are watching for them it greatly improves our chances of seeing a "dinosaur killer" in time to do something about it.


@ Bob

Big asteroid... we ALL die.

That is all.

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