NASA has invigorated the imaginations of space enthusiasts for decades, giving us great insight into what lies beyond our planet. Initiatives that involve traveling to other planets and space bodies thrill us to our core, while high-resolution images of space continue to captivate us year after year.
However, NASA doesn’t exist primarily to excite us with gorgeous space photography and groundbreaking information regarding space bodies. NASA has an objective to keep us safe, and each year, much of their budget goes to the development of technology that can protect us here on Earth.
Now, NASA is developing an innovative and technologically advanced space telescope with one main objective: protecting us from asteroids. This telescope, which, as of now, does not have a name, is set to launch in 2024, and it may be the most groundbreaking, not to mention life-saving, piece of space equipment ever created.
What Can an Asteroid Do to Earth?
We know that asteroids are not a daily threat to our existence. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that an asteroid could wipe out an entire country. In 2005, Congress directed NASA to devote a large chunk of its budget to developing technology that could detect nearby asteroids more efficiently and thoroughly than ever before, which is why a telescope of this scale is now being developed.
See, while asteroid hits are clearly not common, they aren’t impossible in any sense of the word. Currently, we are able to detect a good number of asteroids using the technology that we have, but still, that technology is limited. It’s estimated that we’re only aware of about a third of the asteroids that are in our general vicinity. And, it’s worth pointing out that the asteroids that are documented do not appear to threaten us in any way.
However, if an asteroid were to hit our planet, it would cause widespread destruction that would put any natural disaster to shame. It’s estimated that an asteroid with a width of just 50 meters could take out a large city. And, many of the asteroids that we’ve recorded exceed 140 meters.
How Can This Telescope Save Lives?
The telescope that NASA is developing is designed to detect asteroids that are above 140 meters in width. What makes this telescope unique is that it will be detecting asteroids using temperature sensors. See, space is extraordinarily cold, and asteroids radiate heat. Therefore, this telescope can detect temperature changes in order to inform us that an asteroid is nearby. It’s believed that this telescope will be capable of picking up nearly 90 percent of nearby asteroids, which is far more than what any previous technology has been capable of.
Simultaneously, technology is being developed to deflect Earth-bound asteroids. In other words, the telescope will pick up the asteroids, and other devices will be used to change their course. The telescope alone will cost about $600 million, so you can imagine how much of a priority it is to ensure that asteroids don’t wreak havoc on our planet.
It’s also worth pointing out that this telescope can only exist because of discoveries that NASA has made over recent years involving infrared technology. Previous telescopes have existed in an effort to spot asteroids, but only this telescope will be able to detect them with such accuracy and precision in terms of size.
Also, this is not the first telescope used by NASA for similar purposes. The last one, launched in 2009, was the NEOWISE, and it successfully detected a number of asteroids that are now cataloged and monitored by NASA specialists. However, it relied on frozen hydrogen to function, and that frozen hydrogen has since run out.
This project is one of the many initiatives undertaken by the planetary defense department of the Planetary Society. We anxiously await to see how this technology will be utilized to defend our planet against asteroids.
What This New Technology Could Usher in Going Forward
NASA’s asteroid-hunting space telescope is a brilliant example of technology being used to benefit humankind. This telescope may be able to give us more insight into asteroids than ever before, while helping prevent a major catastrophe. While the telescope isn’t set to launch for another five years, we can follow its developments on NASA’s website.