Emily LakdawallaFeb 01, 2008

Target Earth, asking candidates about science, SETI, and the rovers

I've been remiss in telling you all about a lot of new stuff on the website lately, including some new initiatives of The Planetary Society to advocate for changes in public policy.

The biggest one of those is "Target Earth," an initiative marking the 100th anniversary of the Tunguska impact, which happened on June 30, 1908. On that date, a meteor exploded in the air above a Russian forest, leveling 2,000 square kilometers of it and killing many animals; it's unknown if the calamity killed any humans, but if it did, their names are lost to memory. Such impacts happen from time to time on Earth and it's fortunately far more likely for them to happen over water than over land (just because there's more water than land on Earth), and far more likely for them to happen over uninhabited than inhabited areas (for the same reason), but if a roll of the cosmic dice produces a Tunguska over a city of any size it would be a terrible disaster. Unlike most natural disasters, though, by applying current technology we have a chance to predict exactly when and where a large impact will happen, which provides a great opportunity to prevent it or at least reduce the resulting damage. Target Earth is intended to raise the profile of near-Earth objects, to educate the public and to encourage increased efforts, both public and private, to find and track potential hazards and mitigate any predictable disasters.

Also, The Planetary Society is encouraging people to submit space-related questions to upcoming debates among the candidates for the U.S. presidency. And while I'm mentioning that I think I should also link to the website of ScienceDebate2008, which is advocating for a debate to be held that is focused strictly on science and technology policy in the United States. For our part, The Planetary Society is convening a workshop on "Examining the Vision: Balancing Science and Exploration" in which current or former astronauts, public-interest advocates, aerospace-industry executives, and scientists will examine robotic and human space exploration; the need for continuing and enhancing Earth science observations; the relative utility of humans and robots; launch vehicles and the status of access to space; the emerging entrepreneurial space industry; and progress or impediments to human exploration of Mars, asteroids, and the Moon. Louis Friedman previews that workshop in the latest Planetary Radio Show.

In other space-related news, Amir Alexander posted an update on how SETI@home has morphed into "citizen science." And A. J. S. Rayl has posted her January update on the progress of the rovers. As expected, Spirit is already suffering through very low power levels at less than 280 watt-hours, but cleaner Opportunity is rolling along at 500.

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