By: Mike Wall Published: 06/08/2012 06:58 AM EDT on SPACE.com The nations of the world need to work together to develop a warningand communication system that could mitigate the worst effects of acatastrophic asteroid strike, a new report stresses. Such a system would issue international warnings about possibleimpending strikes and educate the public about the threats posed by near-Earth objects . It also would call government leaders’ and the public’s attentionto the scientific value and potential economic importance ofasteroids. Coming up with international guidelines of this sort would not beeasy, since nothing of its kind has been done before, write theauthors of the report, which was issued by the nonprofit SecureWorld Foundation.
“Today no worldwide disaster-notification protocol of any kindexists. The closest analogy might be the cooperative early- warning system developed for tsunamis in the wake of the devastating inundation of the coasts ofSoutheast Asia in 2004,” the report states. It is beingpresented this week to the United Nations Committee on the PeacefulUses of Outer Space during a conference in Vienna. [ Natural Disasters: Top 10 U.S.
Threats ] Communicating the risk The report summarizes the findings of a meeting convened lastNovember by the Secure World Foundation and the Association ofSpace Explorers. That meeting concentrated on helping a UnitedNations team develop a proposed Information, Analysis and WarningNetwork, or IAWN, for near-Earth objects. The rationale behind pushing the IAWN proposal is simple: Colossal asteroid strikes , which have pummeled Earth fairly regularly over its 4.5 billionyears, know no international borders. If a threatening near-Earthobject (NEO) comes onto scientists’ radar, the whole world willneed to know and they’ll need to know what, if anything, theyshould do in response. Scientists have identified nearly 9,000 near-Earth asteroids and believe lots more are out there. Komatsu Turbocharger
Many different teams ofastronomers around the world are hunting for them and keeping tabson the ones that have been found. The warning network would help streamline and consolidate many ofthese efforts, the report says. “The IAWN has an essential role in a global response to theNEO hazard,” it states. “Essentially, it would comprisethe functions and activities already being carried out by the MinorPlanet Center, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration s(NASA) NEO Program Office, and Europe s Near Earth Object DynamicSite (NEODyS) program.” The system also would serve to keep laypeople, including lawmakers,abreast of the latest asteroid findings and threats. China Detroit Diesel Turbo
“Another key component of IAWN is education and outreach, torelay information on NEO hazards and implications to the public andpolicymakers,” the report says. “This information willgenerally serve to alter the general view that the cosmos haslittle effect on humanity here on Earth, by explaining theconsequences of a NEO impact on our home planet.” [ Photos: Asteroids in Deep Space ] Planting the seed The report’s authors recommend using social media and television toraise public consciousness of NEOs and the threat they pose. Forexample, they advise enlisting the help of weather forecasters. “Meteorologists in some countries already present astronomicalinformation (e.g., meteor showers, space station sightings), aswell as information on pollen and ultraviolet exposure indexes totheir viewers,” the report notes. China Turbocharger Turbine Wheel
“If they could also beenlisted to provide details of close-approaching NEOs as theyoccur, the general public could become more attuned to theterminology used by NEO specialists.” The authors acknowledge that it will be a challenge for any warningsystem to convey to the public the uncertainty surrounding anyparticular NEO threat. A potential impact might be years down theroad, and its probability is likely to be revised as scientistsmake more and more observations. The report further stresses that the IAWN’s educational campaignshouldn’t be all doom and gloom. Rather, it should also highlightthe scientific importance of NEOs ancient objects that couldreveal insights about the solar system’s birth as well as theirpotential economic value. Some NEOs are packed full of platinum-group metals and water, whichmake the space rocks intriguing targets for off-Earth mining.
Thebillionaire-backed company Planetary Resources , for example, recently announced its plans to extract NEOresources using unmanned probes in deep space. Overall, the report says the need for international cooperation andcommunication is urgent. A plan must be in place before athreatening space rock comes onto the scene, the authors write. “A lot of attention is focused on the catastrophic damage alarge asteroid could do if it collided with Earth,” MichaelSimpson, executive director of the Secure World Foundation, said ina statement. “This report focuses on how to prevent the evengreater damage we could cause ourselves by miscommunicating orfailing to work together on a common response to the threat.” You can follow SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter: @michaeldwall.
Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and explorationnews on Twitter @Spacedotcom . We’re also on Facebook & Google+ . The 7 Strangest Asteroids in the Solar System Asteroid Mining Gallery: Planetary Resources to Mine Space Rocks When Space Attacks: The 6 Craziest Meteor Impacts Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rightsreserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewrittenor redistributed.
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