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Asteroids as Powerful as Nuclear Bombs Hit Earth Surprisingly Often

Apr 23, 2014 02:37 PM EDT
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Incoming asteroids slam into the Earth's atmosphere surprisingly often, some of them as powerful as nuclear bombs, a new time-lapse video illustrates.
(Photo : NASA / JPL-Caltech)

Incoming asteroids slam into the Earth's atmosphere surprisingly often, some of them as powerful as nuclear bombs, a new time-lapse video illustrates.

The B612 Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by three former NASA astronauts, released a video in honor of Earth Day and to expose the threat asteroids pose to life on Earth.

The video was presented at a press conference Tuesday at Seattle's Museum of Flight.

"While most large asteroids with the potential to destroy an entire country or continent have been detected, less than 10,000 of the more than a million dangerous asteroids with the potential to destroy an entire major metropolitan area have been found by all existing space or terrestrially-operated observatories," the foundation's CEO (and former shuttle pilot) Dr. Ed Lu stated in a press release.

Between 2000 and 2013, network data detected 26 asteroid explosions on Earth ranging in energy from 1-600 kilotons. To put that in perspective, the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945 exploded with an energy impact of 15 kilotons. What's more, many of these collisions go unnoticed because they occur high up in the atmosphere.

The new visualization shows that these asteroids often detonate over remote parts of the ocean, but sometimes occur over highly populated areas. The study notes that four of these explosions within the last century have been larger than the atomic bombs that took out Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"Because we don't know where or when the next major impact will occur, the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a 'city-killer' sized asteroid has been blind luck," Lu said.

Most recently, we witnessed the 600-kiloton impact in Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013 - an event that damaged hundreds of buildings and injured more than 1,000 people. The asteroid was not detected until it had already hit the Earth's atmosphere.

The B612 Foundation wants to improve asteroid early detection by building the Sentinel Space Telescope Mission, an infrared space telescope that would track asteroids still millions of miles away. The mission is planned to launch in 2018.

B612 Impact Video 4-20-14 H264 from D Josh Rosen on Vimeo.

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