NASA Funds $5M on Meteor Tracking System ATLAS

First Posted: Feb 17, 2013 03:42 PM EST

After the a huge meteor recently hit the ground of Chelyabinsk (population 1,130,132), Russia, NASA has approved $5 million of funding for ATLAS project (Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System).

Almost 1,100 people was hurt as aftershock damages buildings and disconnected mobile networks which spread the panic across the nation.

The most recent such impact occurred about 103 years ago, the Tunguska impact, in Siberia.

This new system will allow a one-week warning for a 50-yard diameter asteroid or “city killer” and three weeks for a 150 yard-diameter “county killer.”

The system is being developed by Dr. John Tonry at the University of Hwaii Institute of Astronomoy.

“That’s enough time to evacuate the area of people, take measures to protect buildings and other infrastructure, and be alert to a tsunami danger generated by ocean impacts,” Tonry said.

"It's gonna involve small telescopes about the size of a good garbage can, but very wide fields of view and the intent is to basically scan the whole sky a couple times a night and that makes it possible for things to sneak through," Tonry added.

The team is on its way to set up and operate an asteroid detection system that will monitor the visible sky twice a night looking for faint objects moving through space.

ATLAS can operate up to 8 small telescopes, each equipped with cameras of up to 100 megapixels, on mounts housed at one or two locations in the Hawaiian Islands.

The system is to be fully operationating by the end of 2015.

If the meteorite that hit Chelyabinsk, Russia, recently reached on Earth at a different time of day, it could have landed on Moscow, Belfast, Dublin or any number of other cities with a latitude close to that of Chelyabinsk.

Had the much bigger asteroid 2012 DA14 that coincidentally passed by Earth on the same day been the one that hit Chelyabinsk, the whole city would have been completely wiped out.

The Chelyabinsk meteor was flying at approximately 33,000 miles per hour (53,000 kilometers per hour) and exploded with the power of an atomic bomb - though it was at least 18 miles (29 kilometers) off the ground.

Funding from NASA’s Near Earth Observation Program will provide $5 million over five years with $3.5 million designated for design and construction in the first three years and the remainder for operating the system in the following two years.

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