On Thursday, November 8, 2007, The Planetary Society will submit a statement to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics urging Congress to prevent Earth's largest radio telescope -- Arecibo -- from closing due to lack of funds, leaving the planet more vulnerable to a future meteorite impact. Read the complete statement.
Earth orbits the solar system in a swarm of near Earth objects (NEOS). These have struck with devastating results in the path, including an impact in Siberia a century ago that leveled miles of forest. If it had plummeted down a few hours earlier in a populated area, hundreds of thousands of people may have been killed.
Radar tracking is the only way to precisely know the probability of impact, and the Arecibo telescope is the most powerful instrument for the job, 20 times more sensitive for NEO radar tracking than any other instrument in the world.
"Unfortunately, Arecibo is slated to be closed by the National Science Foundation in a misguided attempt to free up funding for new projects that do not yet exist," said the Society's statement.
Over the past few years, we have advanced our knowledge of NEOs, discovering, tracking, and characterizing many of the comets and asteroids that travel through our neighborhood of space. The Planetary Society has funded several NEO researchers through its Gene Shoemaker grant program.
"Unlike the reindeer herders of Siberia who were taken completely unawares by that bolt from the blue, we have the ability to track and predict the danger a NEO may pose decades down the road, enough time for us to perhaps avert a catastrophic impact," said Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society.
Astronomers have already discovered that one asteroid, named Apophis, will pass closer to Earth in 22 years than our geosynchronous communications satellites, and its trajectory has a small probability of taking it on a collision course with Earth seven years after that.
The Planetary Society conducted an Apophis Mission Design contest this year (with $50,000 in prize money) for the best idea for tagging a potentially hazardous asteroid, marking it in some way that it could be better tracked.
The Planetary Society urges Congress to provide the necessary support to keep the Arecibo planetary radar operating. Saving Arecibo from closure is part of the Society’s ongoing "Save Our Science (SOS)" Campaign to rescue NASA's space science program from severe budget cuts.