Sentinel Space Telescope to orbit sun, spot rocky threats to Earth

Not content to sit back and wait for an asteroid to obliterate all life on Earth, a group of scientists and space vets are launching their own telescope. Sentinel will be the world's first privately funded space telescope, and it will orbit the sun and map out the asteroids lurking around the interior of our solar system.

So, we aren't completely ignoring asteroid threats. NASA's Near-Earth Object mission is tasked with cataloging space rocks that are more than half a mile wide. So far, NEO has found around 10,000 objects, and estimates this to be around 90 of all the near-Earth objects to be found. Floating alongside these half-mile rocks are smaller asteroids, which, while not Earth-shattering, could do still quite a bit of damage.

The B612 Foundation, which is the group funding the Sentinel Space Telescope, points to Russia's Tunguska event in 1908 as a reason why we need better asteroid detection. While much smaller than the near-Earth objects we currently track, the Tunguska meteorite still exploded with the energy of "about 185 Hiroshima bombs," according to NASA. With that in mind, the foundation is proposing that we try and map all asteroids, not just the big ones.

That's where the Sentinel Space Telescope comes in. The plan is to launch the telescope into heliocentric orbit within the next 10 years, where it will take in whole hemispheres of space at once. In five and a half years, according to the foundation, Sentinel should have some 98 percent of near-Earth asteroid, both large and small, identified.

The B612 Foundation is led by some heavy hitters in the space world, including astronaut Rusty Schweickart, who is one of its founders and an asteroid defense advocate, and fellow astronaut Edward Lu, who acts as the foundation's CEO. See an overview of the Sentinel mission in the video below.

B612, via Space.com and Pop Sci

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