The chance of a city-killing asteroid striking the Earth is higher than previously believed, a non-profit group building an asteroid-hunting telescope said on Tuesday.
A global network that listens for nuclear weapons detonations detected 26 asteroids that exploded in the Earth’s atmosphere from 2000 to last year, data collected by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization shows.
The explosions include the impact over Chelyabinsk, Russia, on Feb. 15 last year that injured more than 1,000 people.
“There is a popular misconception that asteroid impacts are extraordinarily rare ... that’s incorrect,” said former NASA astronaut Ed Lu, who cofounded and now heads the B612 Foundation.
The foundation on Tuesday released a visualization of the asteroid strikes in a bid to raise public awareness of the threat.
Asteroids as small as 40m have the potential to level a city, Lu told reporters on a conference call
“Picture a large apartment building — moving at Mach 50,” he said.
Mach 50 is 50 times the speed of sound, or about 61,250 kph.
NASA already has a program in place that tracks asteroids larger than 1km. An object of this size — about equivalent to a small mountain — would have global consequences if it struck the planet.
An asteroid about 10km in diameter hit Earth about 65 million years ago, triggering climate changes that are believed to have caused the extinction of dinosaurs and most other life on Earth
City-killer asteroids are forecast to strike about once every 100 years, but the prediction is not based on hard evidence.
B612 wants to address that with a privately funded, infrared space telescope called Sentinel that will be tasked with finding potentially dangerous asteroids near Earth.