No place to duck
Odds are that worrying about being killed by a meteor strike aren't at the top of your list today. But the spectacular appearance Friday of the meteor that exploded in the atmosphere over Siberia is a reminder that worrying about such objects should be at the top of somebody's list.
Much of the astronomy world was focused Friday on the anticipated fly-by of a much larger object, Asteroid 2012 DA14, which passed just 17,200 miles or so above the earth, closer than some geostationary satellites and only about a fifteenth of the distance to the moon.
The meteor weighed about 10,000 tons and was traveling 33,000 miles an hour when it hit the atmosphere and lit up the Siberian morning. The asteroid's estimated weight was about 204,000 tons.
NASA issued a report in 2007 saying it had detected about 20,000 objects that could strike Earth and have massive consequences, ranging from wiping out a city to wiping out the planet.
But its tools are as limited as its budget in trying to get a more definitive handle on the risk.
The Siberian meteor should be an alarm. Some entrepreneurs have been working on plans to detect such objects and even mine them for precious metals. NASA has proposed a dedicated space telescope to search for such objects without the distorting effects of the atmosphere.
Congress should authorize NASA to work with the private sector and other governments to develop a detection and diversion program.
Edward Lu, a former astronaut and Google executive involved in the private-sector effort, put it this way to the New York Times: "Wouldn't it be silly if we got wiped out because we weren't looking? This is a wake-up call from space. We've got to pay attention to what's out there."