Here’s something that I found interesting. I get a daily update known as the Astronomy Picture of the Day. Today’s (January 29) was about the close approach of the Near Earth Object (NEO) known as 2004 BL86, which is about a third of a mile in size and if it struck the Earth could cause widespread damage and loss of life. It came within three quarters of a million miles of Earth or about three times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.
Now all that is interesting and I often joke about worrying about the asteroid that is going to strike the Earth. It really isn’t much of a joking matter because of the destructive potential of such a strike, especially if it hit a population center.
But all that isn’t the real point here. What caught my attention in the description of the close encounter (yes, I used that term on purpose), they wrote, “Still, the close approach to planet Earth allowed detailed radar imaging from NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California and revealed the asteroid to have its own moon.”
The largest ships ever build on Earth are just under a third of a mile long. I mention that for some perspective. Now we’re told that not only can these Earth-base radars detect something relatively small at such great distances, but it is capable of discriminating between an object some 1700 feet in diameter and its much smaller companion.
I think you all can see where I’m going with this. If we have a radar system that good, with that ability, what else might it have detected closer to Earth? Does that system operate all the time and what is it searching for? Oh, I know, it probably is set to look for these small asteroids in their near Earth orbits, but they must see other things at other times such as satellites, space debris and the like. What do they do with those objects that don’t fit into the normal astronomical or other categories? Are those data collected or just ignored? Are they sent to another organization such as, oh, I don’t know, the Air Force Space Command?
These sorts of things would be classified, of course. National security. We wouldn’t want our competitors in the world to know just how good these radar systems are so the information from them would be classified and besides, we don’t have a need to know.
This might be a path that we wish to follow. Who knows what a FOIA request might shake loose… or we might just learn that they have nothing that is responsible to our request… or call it a goose egg.