When a meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia in February, the world’s space agencies found out along with the rest of us, on Twitter and YouTube. That, says former astronaut Ed Lu, is unacceptable—and the United Nations agrees. Last week the General Assembly approved a set of measures that Lu and other astronauts have recommended to protect the planet from the dangers of rogue asteroids.
The U.N. plans to set up an “International Asteroid Warning Group” for member nations to share information about potentially hazardous space rocks. If astronomers detect an asteroid that poses a threat to Earth, the U.N.’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space will help coordinate a mission to launch a spacecraft to slam into the object and deflect it from its collision course.
When NASA’s asteroid watch Twitter feed was shut down for the partial government shutdown, some people mistook it for an actual asteroid watch capability going down. NASA has no explicit responsibility to deflect asteroids headed for earth.
Lu, Scientific American notes, is the founder of a non-profit, the B612 Foundation, which is working on a privately funded infrared telescope to look for large Earth-bound asteroids.