Asteroids have caused 26 nuclear bomb sized explosions since 2000 – SU Global Summit 2018

Since the year 2000, the array of microphones for detecting nuclear bomb detonation has detected 26 nuclear-sized explosions in the Earth’s atmosphere which have been caused by asteroid impacts. Those impacts have ranged from 1 kiloton to 600 kilotons.

Danica was elected President of B612 Foundation in 2017 and leads the organization’s global efforts to protect Earth from the potential asteroid impacts. Danica presented at SU Global Summit 2018. Nextbigfuture interviewed her about B612 Asteroids.

B612 Foundation is dedicated to planetary defense against asteroids and other near-Earth object (NEO) impacts.

The once a century asteroid event was the Tunguska event in 1908. The explosion over the sparsely populated Eastern Siberian Taiga flattened 2,000 square kilometers (770 square miles) of forest. It was a 3-5 megaton explosion.

Large Synoptic Survey Telescope starts in 2019

The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) is a wide-field survey reflecting telescope with an 8.4-meter primary mirror, currently under construction, that will photograph the entire available sky every few nights. It will begin operating in 2019.

It can detect asteroids from 100 meters or larger. In the first 60 days of operation the LSST telescope should detect about 50,000 new near earth asteroids.

Currently we have detected 18,000 out of 3 million near earth asteroids.

Atlas telescope

The Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS; Observatory codes T05 and T08) is an astronomical survey and robotic, early-warning system for detecting smaller near-Earth objects a few weeks to days before they impact Earth. Funded by NASA, and developed and operated by the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy, the system’s current two 0.5-meter telescopes are located at Haleakala (ATLAS-HKO) and Mauna Loa (ATLAS-MLO) observatories, on two of the Hawaiian Islands and 160 km apart. Each of the two telescope surveys one-quarter of the whole observable sky four times per clear night, for a four-fold coverage of the observable sky every two clear nights. ATLAS began observations in 2015. Its two-telescope version is fully operational since 2017, and the project is seeking funding for two additional telescopes in the Southern hemisphere.


The Near-Earth Object Camera (NEOCam) is a proposed space-based infrared telescope designed to survey the Solar System for potentially hazardous asteroids. NEOCam would survey from the Sun–Earth L1 Lagrange point, allowing it to look close to the Sun and see objects inside Earth’s orbit. NEOCam would be the successor of the NEOWISE mission; the principal investigator is NEOWISE’s principal investigator, Amy Mainzer of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In 2016, the NEOCam team proposed to launch in 2021 and find two-thirds of missing objects in the larger-than-140-meters category within four years.

Synthetic Tracking of Asteroids

On 10 May, 2018, B612 announced a partnership with York Space Systems, a Denver-based maker of standard 85-kilogram satellites, to investigate building a fleet of small asteroid hunters. B612 has developed a new technique to do the same thing as a $450 million Sentinal space telescope at a far lower cost with small space telescopes. Ed Lu, B612’s co-founder, expects the first telescope to cost about $10 million and believes a full constellation “would be a factor of many, many cheaper” than Sentinel.

Synthetic tracking takes up to 100 snapshots in a single second. A dim asteroid won’t appear in any particular image, but by arranging and stacking the photos in thousands of combinations, the system can get lucky and preferentially brighten an unknown fast-moving object.

We would need to launch space telescopes with the latest GPUs and FPGA chips to do the calculations. There is lag getting the best computer chips rated for space flight. We need to accelerate getting better computing into space to improve space imaging and analysis.

Finding Very Small Near-Earth Asteroids using Synthetic Tracking (2013)

Synthetic Tracking of asteroids is an approach that would significantly increases the sensitivity for finding and tracking small and fast near-Earth asteroids (NEA’s). This approach relies on a combined use of a new generation of high-speed cameras which allow short, high frame-rate exposures of moving objects, effectively “freezing” their motion, and a computationally enhanced implementation of the “shift-and-add” data processing technique that helps to improve the signal to noise ratio (SNR) for detection of NEA’s. The SNR of a single short exposure of a dim NEA is insufficient to detect it in one frame, but by computationally searching for an appropriate velocity vector, shifting successive frames relative to each other and then co-adding the shifted frames in post-processing, we synthetically create a long-exposure image as if the telescope were tracking the object. This approach, which we call “synthetic tracking,” enhances the familiar shift-and-add technique with the ability to do a wide blind search, detect, and track dim and fast-moving NEA’s in near real time. We discuss also how synthetic tracking improves the astrometry of fast-moving NEA’s. We apply this technique to observations of two known asteroids conducted on the Palomar 200-inch telescope and demonstrate improved SNR and 10-fold improvement of astrometric precision over the traditional long exposure approach. In the past 5 years, about 150 NEA’s with absolute magnitudes H=28 (~10 m in size) or fainter have been discovered. With an upgraded version of our camera and a field of view of (28 arcmin)^2 on the Palomar 200-inch telescope, synthetic tracking could allow detecting up to 180 such objects per night, including very small NEAs with sizes down to 7 meters.

Asteroid Day

B612 is a founding partner to Asteroid Day. Rusty and I, along with filmmaker Grig Richters and astrophysicist/rockstar Brian May, decided to make this idea into a reality in 2014. And this year, we really saw what is possible:

* A 48-hour live broadcast with contributions from space agencies across the globe (Thanks ESA, NASA and JAXA!)

* Asteroid and astronomy events on 6 continents (c’mon Antarctica!)

* Media across the globe writing about asteroids (check out this CNN piece and this New York Times article)

* And asteroids trending across social media