Air Force may share secret data on killer space rocks

About once a year, Earth gets hit by a space rock the size of truck, unleashing the same amount of destructive power as an atomic bomb. So far, we've been lucky, but in the interest of planetary security, the US Air Force might start sharing secret satellite data on meteorite impacts with scientists.

The Air Force has a bunch of mostly secret satellites in orbit to watch for things like ballistic missile launches, but they also end up catching a lot of meteorite impacts and near misses. When a meteorite hits the atmosphere, it vaporizes (if we're lucky), and makes a bright flash that the satellites record. Besides precise location data, the satellites can also apparently measure things like exact blast energies, which would be extremely helpful for scientists who are trying to figure out how worried we should all be about getting our entire civilization flattened by a rogue comet.

It might seem a little bit paranoid to be concerned about this stuff, but a sizable asteroid strike is one of those things that has the potential to do some serious damage with little or no warning. Statistically, meteorites the size of trucks hit the upper atmosphere about once a year, and if they make it through, they effectively turn into nukes. The last one of these blew up over the Eastern Mediterranean in 2002, but if it had decided to end itself over a city or something, we'd probably be having a much more serious discussion about planetary defense systems right now.

So why is the Air Force hesitant about making these data public? Well, if it's really good info (and it is), that means they must have really fancy secret satellites (which they do), so they're trying to figure out how to make the important stuff public without tipping us all off to what exactly what they've got going on in orbit. But it's in the best interests of the entire planet that researchers be able to use this information to help predict and possibly prepare for future encounters with near-Earth objects, before it's too late and we end up with another Bruce Willis movie. Or worse.

Via Danger Room

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