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The Race to Save Humanity from Asteroids Gets a Boost from Queen's Brian May

The Queen musician is making noise about an asteroid defense project.

Asteroid defense projects are underrated. Unsuccessful crowdfunding ventures and niche meteorite hunters aren't likely to catch a whole lot of attention. But if a project has someone like Queen's Brian May at the helm, it's going to make more noise.

When the next asteroid hits Earth, it could trigger tsunamis, hurricanes, or cause global catastrophe. Remember the flaming meteor that hit the sleepy Russian town of Chelyabinsk back in February 2013? Now imagine an impact orders of magnitudes larger. It's a very real threat, but how do you create public interest around a threat that the public can't really see?


Enter May, who wants to pump up the noise around the issue by helping a bunch of concerned scientists, which include UK Astronomer Royal Lord Martin Rees, cosmonaut Alexey Leonov, and biologist Richard Dawkins, raise £160 million ($249 million) to construct an orbiting space observatory called Sentinel. They're also organising a series of worldwide events on June 30 2015, which they've dubbed "Asteroid Day." The day marks the anniversary of the 1908 Tunguska asteroid impact, which is the largest asteroid impact on Earth in recorded history.

The Sentinel mission was originally started in 2012 by astronauts Ed Lu and Rusty Schweickart with the goal of protecting Earth from asteroids. The aim is to use an infrared telescope that will detect incoming space rocks in advance, which they hope will help Earthlings prepare a defense. Because many asteroids are dark rocks in the black void of space, an infrared telescope is key for detection; currently, NASA possesses infrared telescopes that spy small, dark asteroids.

2012 chart of near-Earth objects observed by NASA's NEOWISE mission. Image: NASA/JPL/Caltech

In a report by the Guardian, Diane Murphy, a spokeswoman for Asteroid Day, explained that the Sentinel telescope would be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and hover close to the sun in space, surveying asteroids and meteorites that approach Earth.

May and his Asteroid Day crew are just one of many groups of scientists, researchers, and advocates who've been raising awareness of asteroid threats. Back in April, researchers congregated at the fourth International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) Planetary Defence Conference to discuss the best ways of dealing with asteroids that were heading straight for Earth—whether that be by deflecting their orbit path, or blowing them up with nukes.

The researchers behind Asteroid Day are aiming to raise awareness of the dangers of flying space rock. They want to encouraging members of the public to sign a declaration in support of scientists working on asteroid defense, dubbed the 100X Declaration because the group aims for a hundredfold increase in near-Earth asteroid tracking and monitoring in the next 10 years.

"The more we learn about asteroid impacts, the clearer it becomes that the human race has been living on borrowed time," said May in a release. "Asteroid Day and the 100X Declaration are ways for the public to contribute to bring about an awareness that we can get hit anytime. A city could be wiped out anytime because we just don't know enough about what's out there."