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.
"Balancing the wonders of astronomy with the looming potential for an epic, planet-wide disaster, Yeomans, a fellow and research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explores the origins of near-Earth objects--asteroids, comets, meteors, and meteoroids--and the threat they can pose to our planet. . . . Yeomans's book is an accessible and far-ranging primer on the science of near-Earth objects."--Publishers Weekly
"As Earth creaks on its course around the Sun, it is exposed to a relentless barrage of asteroids and comets. Donald Yeomans, who manages NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office, offers an introduction to the science of these lethal monsters, one of which may have seen off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago and created the Chicxulub crater. Yeomans shows how the threats are balanced by potential boons, such as the theoretical delivery of the building blocks of life on Earth. Can these reeling masses even become interplanetary pitstops on the road to Mars?"--Nature
"[Near Earth Objects] gives readers an inside account of the latest efforts to find, track and study life-threatening asteroids and comets."--ScientificAmerican.com's Observations blog
"Near-Earth Objects is a fascinating tour guide of the asteroids we should worry about."--Marcus Chown, New Scientist
"Despite its title, Near-Earth Objects offers a concise and informative overview of the formation of the entire solar system: why the planets differ, the latest theories on how they lined up and the origin of such leftovers as comets and asteroids. Yeomans also makes a good case that a near-Earth asteroid is an accessible target for our next space adventure, readying us for Mars and preparing us for a time when we might depend on them as a source of rare minerals."--Marcia Bartusiak, Washington Post
Table of Contents:
Chapter 1 Earth's Closest Neighbors 1
Chapter 2 The Solar System's Origin: The Classical View 15
Chapter 3 How and Where Do Near-Earth Objects Form? 29
Chapter 4 Near-Earth Objects as the Enablers and Destroyers of Life 47
Chapter 5 Discovering and Tracking Near-Earth Objects 57
Chapter 6 The Nature of Asteroids and Comets 79
Chapter 7 Nature's Natural Resources and the Human Exploration of Our Solar System 100
Chapter 8 Near-Earth Objects as Threats to Earth 109
Chapter 9 Predicting the Likelihood of an Earth Impact 125
Chapter 10 Deflecting an Earth-Threatening Near-Earth Object 140
Index of Asteroid and Cometary Objects 159
General Index 161