An infrared space telescope, called the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has discovered several dark asteroids close to Earth that could possibly be a threat to our planet. Those asteroids are very dark and reflect less than 10% of the sunlight they receive, which makes them extremely hard to spot with traditional telescopes. However they absorb a lot of the sunlight and heat up which makes them quite bright in infrared. That’s why WISE could detect them.
Near-Earth Object becomes visible in infrared
WISE, the new space telescope launched on December 14, 2009 is expected to discover as many as 1000 near-Earth asteroids. However according to current estimates the number of undiscovered dark asteroids capable of doing great damage if they hit Earth are over 10,000.
It seems that the odds of an asteroid impact destroying human civilization on Earth have increased dramatically since this discovery. If we don’t want to end like the dinosaurs, it would be a good idea to establish permanent and self-sufficient outposts on the Moon and perhaps Mars. That way at least, in event of a catastrophe the human race will live on. We should also work on an efficient way of detecting asteroids long before they are due to impact and deflect them on time. Science fiction movies such as Armageddon and Deep Impact depict such a scenario.
Image credits: Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) by NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA