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Group seeks to protect Earth from asteroids, meteors

February 15, 2013 10:39:24 PM PST
A 150-foot asteroid hurtled through Earth's backyard Friday, coming within an incredible 17,150 miles and making the closest known flyby for a rock of its size. In a chilling coincidence, a meteor exploded above Russia just hours before the asteroid zoomed past the planet.

The meteor exploded with the force of 20 atomic bombs when it hit the atmosphere, shattering into pieces. Scientists say it was six and half feet across, the largest to hit land in more than a century. More than 1,000 people were injured, and about 3,000 buildings were damage.

Scientists the world over, along with NASA, insisted the meteor had nothing to do with the asteroid since they appeared to be traveling in opposite directions.

In some ways, the timing of Friday's meteor strike could not have come at a better time. All that damage was miniscule compared with what the larger asteroid would have done.

The scary part is if it had been coming directly at us, we would have been helpless. But a local foundation wants to change that.

It happened just when most of us thought we had the unpredictable universe at bay. Well now the residents of Chelyabinsk, Russia and the rest of us for that matter know better.

You might think of it as a cosmic warning shot, a headline stealer from the much larger and dangerous Asteroid 2012 DA14 which, as expected, missed Earth by 17,000 miles. But here's the unsettling part, "Twenty years ago, if 2012 DA14 flew by Earth, we would never have known it," said NASA scientist Jim Green, P.hD.

Hence the B612 Project based out of Mountain View, a plan to launch a privately financed, deep space telescope called Sentinel. It would map space, giving Earth decades of advanced warning rather than a year, a month, or even a few seconds like we saw in Russia.

Its CEO is former NASA astronaut Ed Lu. He told us Sentinel would have made a difference had Friday's larger asteroid been on an impact course with Earth, "With 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years of notice, it's actually pretty straight forward to deflect an asteroid," he said.

That's what we would have had with Friday's big one. It could have wiped out an area as large as our own.

That's why the B612 Foundation is hoping to raise public donations of $450 million. They says it's a small price, compared with paying for the alternative.

"How could we let our civilization or parts of our civilizations, or huge parts of our cities go away, be destroyed if we could do something about it?" asked Lu.

One interesting note, we learned Friday that a government funded think tank, the Rand Institute, has concluded that if scientists were to learn of an impending, end-of- life-on-earth impact, the public should not be warned. It says the panic, misery, and disruption would not be worthwhile. The institute suggests telling people only if there is something the human race can do.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)


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