The Watch...An Asteroid Research and Detection Project
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Could This be the Greatest Oversight in Human History?

asteroid threat
Most of us have heard by now of the potential dangers to our civilization and of humanities’ survival from Asteroid Impacts. The movies Deep Impact and Armageddon were fictionalized accounts of a scenario that could actually occur, except of course that NASA doesn't have any secret spaceships to deal with the problem as shown in the Hollywood versions of Doomsday.

The problem is not that a giant rock or comet is likely to take all of the worlds’ Astronomers by surprise tomorrow but the consequences of such an event would be so catastrophic, possibly even an ELE…("Extinction Level Event," as anyone who saw Deep Impact will know), that we cannot afford to ignore it. Especially now that it's within our power to actually do something about it. In any event, the issue (as astronomers and others are  constantly reminding us) is not really if something like this will happen, but when (the fact that we say "not likely" just means that we really don't know). The most important thing we can do is to be prepared. A Comet or Asteroid strike is much more likely to become a Human ELE if our first indication, our first clue, is the ground shaking under our feet, followed shortly by a fireball approaching from over the horizon. At that point about the only thing to do is find someone to kiss goodbye.

At this moment it's estimated that astronomers have located about 10% of the large Near Earth Objects (NEOs also known as global killers). That leaves in excess of 2,000, with diameters more than a kilometer across, that whiz past our little planet each year, at speeds in excess of 100,000 kph. The Earth really is like one of the little ducks going back and forth in a cosmic shooting gallery.

You might think that governments around the world would launch a massive worldwide effort to find all potential dangers to ascertain their threat level. You would be partially right but the amount of funding available is barely trickling in to those astronomers who might just make the most difference to our efforts to catalogue these NEOs. As is so often the case, the citizens of the world must stand up and do the work themselves.

That is where The Watch comes in…

The Watch is a project of the Space Frontier Foundation; a U.S.-based, non-profit organization…people dedicated to the cause of taking private enterprise to the high ground of Space. The Watch Advisory Council consists of some of the most highly regarded and most prestigious Astronomers in the World. These respected people include Dr. Tom Gehrels of the University of Arizona, Dr. Eleanor Helin of Jet Propulsion Laboratories in California, Dr. Richard Binzel of MIT, Dr. John Lewis of the University of Arizona, Laurel Wilkening, member of the National Commission on Space and Dr. Brian Marsden of The Minor Planet Center. These are all professional people who recognize the importance of finding these NEOs before they find us.

The Watch has started with a donation of $30,000 to the University of Victoria in Canada to further the cause of asteroid observation, follow-up and characterization. These moneys and others have been contributed by philanthropists and businessmen, all of whom recognize the ramifications of neglecting this serious issue.

Apogee Books, headed by Richard Godwin, is currently publishing Science Fiction and Science Fact books about the NEO threat. Apogee will also be releasing several compact discs and other multimedia products, all profits from  which go to The Watch central funds.

We are seeking benefactors who are willing to help, financially, with the serious work of finding potential Earth threatening asteroids, cataloguing their orbits and learning about their physical nature.

So…beyond helping save our species, what's in it for you?

How about Immortality?

Okay, not exactly...but Astronomy has a long established and unique tradition of recognizing benefactors in perpetuity through the naming of research facilities, telescopes and observatories. Supporting research work in asteroid discovery provides us with an opportunity far beyond naming a new species after a benefactor, or perhaps putting a name on the back of an Opera house seat; it opens the possibility of having a small celestial body (namely an asteroid) named after the benefactor.

One of the privileges attached to being the discoverer of an asteroid is the opportunity to propose the name of the object. This is done after the object is tracked and categorized, so that we actually know its’ position and characteristics. Names proposed by the discoverer are considered for approval by the world's official body of astronomers, the International Astronomical Union (IAU). Once approved, the name is cataloged in perpetuity and maintained within all of the astronomical institutions of the world. There is a universe (pardon the pun) of difference between a name in the asteroid catalog and the naming of stars by a well known, group called "International Star Registry". This is a quite illicit activity (the official naming of stars without IAU approval) and the certificate issued is not worth the paper it is printed on. On the other hand, the naming of asteroids by the IAU is an official activity of the only body in the world with the authority to assign names to objects in space.

It must be made clear that the long tradition of the IAU  strictly forbids the actual "selling" of asteroid names. As a potential benefactor of asteroid research this alone cannot be construed as a guarantee that your name or that of a loved one will be permanently linked to a celestial body among the stars in the sky. However, one of the objectives of our organization is to continually promote the names and the important roles of our benefactors within the asteroid discovery and research community. We are confident that our benefactors will come to be recognized in this most unique and lasting fashion.

An approved Asteroid name is memorialized amongst the stars and recognized officially on an International basis.

At such a time when The Watch may become successful in seeing that you, as a benefactor, are recognized through an asteroid name, The Watch will notify you immediately. It will also provide you with confirmation in the form of a unique brass plaque with the name of the asteroid, its’ orbital characteristics as well as an engraved diagram of its orbit in the solar system. The plaque would also state why and for whom this asteroid is named. The Watch would also publicize, through press releases, that this benefactor has given to a globally significant and truly worthwhile cause that helps all of humanity.

Many people think that asteroids are simple lumps of rock orbiting in space. In fact, they are some of the most interesting objects within our solar system. Some appear to be composed of precious Platinum family metals, possibly worth trillions of dollars at current market prices. Some contain huge quantities of organic materials, the basic building blocks of life itself. It is now thought that our oceans of water here on Earth, and possibly the basic amino acids of life were brought to Earth in endless rains of comets and asteroids which were a massive part of early Earth's adolescence. These are not tombstones floating in space; they have and could one day again represent humankind's very  existence in the cosmos.

You might also think that this is not likely to make a difference in your lifetime. I would point out that the small (100 meters) asteroid or comet that exploded over Siberia in 1908 leveled 800 square miles of forest in a 15 megaton airburst. If the forest had been a city, millions would have been lost. No one saw it coming!

Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, volcanoes, etc., all can be devastating natural disasters. Only the impact of a large object from space – a comet or asteroid – is capable of destroying our entire species, as is believed what happened to the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. We have an enormous advantage over the dinosaurs, though: we can (if we choose to look) see disaster coming, and given enough time, we can do something to avoid or avert catastrophe. The important phrase there is "enough time." Movies are one thing, but we need some real lead time – say, 10 to 20 years – to give scientists and engineers a chance to deal with the threat effectively. We cannot deal with a threat of this magnitude if we don't know where it is, or when it is coming.

Please consider making a donation to this most serious and urgent of causes. If we don't find these objects quickly, planetary history shows that they have a habit of finding us, with devastating consequences.

Asteroid artwork by Pat Rawlings, courtesy NASA.

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Recommended books by John S. Lewis. Asteroids are both a threat to our planet and a gold mine of resources for humanity. What would it be like if entrepreneurs could literally 'mine the sky'? Click above to order from Amazon.

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