Near-Earth Objects: Finding Them before They Find Us

Near-Earth Objects: Finding Them before They Find Us

Near-Earth Objects: Finding Them before They Find Us

Near-Earth Objects: Finding Them before They Find Us


Of all the natural disasters that could befall us, only an Earth impact by a large comet or asteroid has the potential to end civilization in a single blow. Yet these near-Earth objects also offer tantalizing clues to our solar system's origins, and someday could even serve as stepping-stones for space exploration. In this book, Donald Yeomans introduces readers to the science of near-Earth objects--its history, applications, and ongoing quest to find near-Earth objects before they find us.

In its course around the sun, the Earth passes through a veritable shooting gallery of millions of nearby comets and asteroids. One such asteroid is thought to have plunged into our planet sixty-five million years ago, triggering a global catastrophe that killed off the dinosaurs. Yeomans provides an up-to-date and accessible guide for understanding the threats posed by near-Earth objects, and also explains how early collisions with them delivered the ingredients that made life on Earth possible. He shows how later impacts spurred evolution, allowing only the most adaptable species to thrive--in fact, we humans may owe our very existence to objects that struck our planet.

Yeomans takes readers behind the scenes of today's efforts to find, track, and study near-Earth objects. He shows how the same comets and asteroids most likely to collide with us could also be mined for precious natural resources like water and oxygen, and used as watering holes and fueling stations for expeditions to Mars and the outermost reaches of our solar system.


Before the relatively recent discovery of a great population of asteroids in the Earth's neighborhood, a work on the asteroids and comets that make up the so-called near-Earth objects would have been more of a pamphlet rather than a book of this size.

The show-off comets, with their enormous gas and dust tails, have been recorded for millennia. They were feared as mysterious apparitions presaging disasters by the ancient Greeks and Chinese and as fireballs thrown at a sinful Earth from the right hand of an avenging God during the church-oriented Middle Ages. in late 1694, Edmond Halley, who first correctly predicted the return of the comet that bears his name, speculated, [comet impacts may have formed the vast depression of the Caspian sea and other great lakes in the world.] in 1822, the British poet Lord Byron imagined a time when men would have to defend Earth from these celestial miscreants.

Who knows whether, when a comet shall approach this globe to
destroy it, as it often has been and will be destroyed, men will not
tear rocks from their foundations by means of steam, and hurl
mountains, as the giants are said to have done, against the flam
ing mass?—and then we shall have traditions of Titans again, and
of wars with Heaven.

Although the show-off comets in the inner solar system are impressive, it is the far more numerous asteroids in the Earth's neighborhood that should have been feared as they represent the most frequent threats to Earth. However, the threats from these near-Earth asteroids have

Lord Byron in E. J. Lovell, Jr., ed., Medwin's [Conversations of Lord Byron] (Princeton: Prince-ton University Press, 1966), 188.

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