Congress to hold hearings about killer asteroids

All it took was an unexpected meteorite exploding in western Siberia, along with a record close flyby by another space rock to concentrate Washington's attention on something other than political blood sport.

Charles Cooper Former Executive Editor / News
Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.
Charles Cooper
2 min read
To the rescue. Getty Images
Nothing like news of an asteroid suddenly slamming into western Siberia to arouse the folks in Washington from their preoccupation with political blood sport. So it is that the Science, Space, and Technology Committee now plans to hold a hearing soon "to examine ways to better identify and address asteroids that pose a potential threat to Earth."

Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) alluded to the meteor that exploded in the sky above Russia early this morning. More than 900 injuries, mostly from shattered glass, were reported in the city of Chelyabinsk, about 950 miles east of Moscow. In a briefing this afternoon, NASA said the rock was 15 meters in diameter, moving at 18 kilometers per second and lasting about 30 seconds in Earth's atmosphere before breaking apart. The object was not earlier detected by any Earth-based telescopes. Scientists at NASA said it was virtually impossible for telescopes to see a meteorite this size in the daytime sky.

It was just happenstance, but the unexpected meteor made its way to our planet on the same day that a 150-foot-wide asteroid came within 17,200 miles of Earth (in space terms, that qualifies as quite a close call). "Today's events are a stark reminder of the need to invest in space science," Smith said, adding that the asteroid's distance from Earth was less than that of a round trip from New York to Sydney. "Developing technology and research that enable us to track objects like Asteroid 2012 DA14 is critical to our future. 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."

The good news -- for now: There's just a 1-in-625 chance of a major asteroid hitting Earth, and not until February 5, 2040. That's plenty of time to get Ben Affleck, Bruce Willis, and the rest of the boys into shape.