Calgary

Military telescope enlists in doomsday asteroid patrol

Scientists in Calgary have enlisted a retrofitted 1950s military telescope to help them spot massive asteroids that could theoretically collide with Earth with catastrophic results.

Scientists in Calgary have enlisted a retrofitted 1950s military telescope to help them spot massive asteroids that could theoretically collide with Earth with catastrophic results.

The telescope, which was used to track satellites during the Cold War, required $500,000 worth of upgrades to prepare it for its new assignment.

"The electronics needed to be redone," Mike Mazur, a geophysicist at the University of Calgary, said. "The motors needed to be replaced, the mechanics of the mount were modified considerably, the optics as well."

The Calgary telescope has a large field of vision, making it one of fewer than 10 places in the world equipped to search for an asteroid.

By using information from the telescope nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the team hopes it will be better prepared to spot a doomsday rock hurtling towards Earth.

"If we had a big object impact the Earth, like a 10-kilometre diameter, it would cause a mass extinction," Alan Hildebrand, a planetary scientist at the U of C, said. "Our civilization would be almost entirely wiped out, along with thousands of other species."

In the 1990s, Hildebrand used rock samples to show that an asteroid or comet created a massive crater in Mexico millions of years ago. Many scientists believe the event led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

In the meantime, space scientists aren't losing sleep over the potential threat.

If someone uses a telescope like the one in Calgary to spot a massive asteroid on a collision course with Earth, Hildebrand said it's conceivable that a spacecraft could be sent up with the goal of knocking the rock out of harm's way.

"Somehow, a rocket propulsion system would be put on the asteroid to change its orbit slightly so it would miss the Earth," he said.

The scientists believe asteroids are valuable, saying one day it may be possible for humans to travel there, mine them and bring back minerals to our planet.

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