A 7700-ton meteor hit Russia early this morning, and a 150-foot asteroid passed safely within 20,000 miles (closer than satellites in geosynchronous orbit) of the Earth this afternoon. The two incidents are not related, according to scientists, but perhaps came too close to each other to avoid being lumped together. For politicians it's a reason for more "investments." Via Politico:
"Developing technology and research that enable us to track objects like Asteroid 2012 DA14 is critical to our future," said the Texas Republican [Lamar Smith], who is also chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, in his committee statement. "We should continue to invest in systems that identify threatening asteroids and develop contingencies, if needed, to change the course of an asteroid headed toward Earth. "Today's events are a stark reminder of the need to invest in space science."
Not for lack of money, the Vice Chair added:
"We have been spending millions to find and track asteroids and comets, but the indications are that this one was so small that we aren't even looking for objects of this size," [Dana] Rohrabacher said in his own statement. "What concerns me even more, however, is the fact that we have no plan that can protect the Earth from any comet or asteroid. So, even if we find one that will hit us, we might not be able to deflect it."
The meteor that hit Russia was so small, in fact, that such a hit occurs every few years. Via the Boston Globe:
Experts say smaller strikes happen five to 10 times a year. Large impacts such as the one Friday in Russia are rarer but still occur about every five years, according to Addi Bischoff, a mineralogist at the University of Muenster in Germany. Most of these strikes happen in uninhabited areas where they don't injure humans.
Russia has the most land area of any country in the world, so it gets a good portion of those meteors that don't hit the two thirds of the Earth covered in ocean. The largest impact event in recorded history happened in Russia, some 1500 miles from today's, in 1908.
And aside from the fact that work's being done on the science and mechanics of asteroid deflection, when in 2010 the U.S. government was trying to figure out which agency would work on planetary protection, Reason's Brian Doherty rightly asked why asteroids are assumed to be an American problem in the first place. Ronald Bailey, meanwhile, laid out the argument for government action on planetary defense in 2005.