"If it's coming in three weeks, pray."Startled into action by recent events that saw our normally quiet area of the solar system transformed into a cosmic shooting gallery, members of the US House of Representatives have been asking awkward questions at a specially-convened hearing.
There seemed to be a slightly aggrieved tone to the proceedings, as if these celestial fragments somehow constitute a deliberate personal affront to the Land of the Free, though it may simply have been a result of the mental contortions required to comprehend the relative probabilities and level of consequences involved.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, said it was "not reassuring" to learn that NASA has so far detected only about 10 percent of the near-Earth objects that are wider than 459 feet (140 meters) across.It's funny, the way an asteroid or two whizzing past seems to focus the mind; a decade or so ago, asteroid detection was seen as a low priority by comparison with other more pressing issues, the sort of subject better suited to Hollywood or the occasional joke (see our own Lembit Opik). Small wonder NASA are feeling rather hard-done-by:
"You all told us to do something, and between the administration and the Congress, the bottom line is the funding did not come."There has been plenty of research, of course, and passing rocks are being discovered and named at an impressive rate - always good news for those of us who regard a flyby as an excuse for a party - but it's clear that the recent near-misses have drawn attention to the fact that, while we may see them coming, there's precious little any of us can do about it.