Monday, June 30, 2008

Tiny Telescopes

The year is 1908, the place is Tunguska, Russia, where a meteoroid or comet blasted into the earth's atmosphere and shattered to pieces, creating a 10-15 megaton explosion.

It downed 80 million trees over the Siberian forest, and scientists are certain that the sheer impact of the explosion would have destroyed any major world city.

In two years, we'll all be able to sleep a little easier at night, knowing that the earth's new watchdog, NEOSSat ( Near Earth Object Surveillance Satellite) is in orbit. Roughly the size of a suitcase, this tiny telescope will be perched 800 km above the earth.

Its sole job is detecting asteroids and other harmful objects before they collide with the earth. For 5 years it will snap photos of possible dangers and beam them back to earth, operating on less power than your average light bulb.

Developed by Canadian scientists, the solar-powered NEOSSat is capable of seeking out objects close to the sun. This is a huge advantage over ground based surveillance telescopes, which are severely limited by bad weather and interfering sunlight.

The telescope will also serve as an early warning system for orbiting space junk traveling in the path of telecommunications satellites. Smashed satellites can kill cable TV, telephones, GPS, and maybe most important of all-access to money through banking systems. But fear not, NEOSSsat can predict space junk collision paths and send warnings to move satellites.

While an event like the 1908 explosion is rare, scientists estimate that there are currently at least 95,000 orbiting meteoroids larger than the one that hit Tunguska.

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