Across China, the virus that could spark the next pandemic is already circulating. It’s a bird flu called H7N9, and true to its name, it mostly infects poultry. Lately, however, it’s started jumping from chickens to humans more readily–bad news, because the virus is a killer. During a recent spike, 88% of people infected got pneumonia, three-quarters ended up in intensive care with severe respiratory problems, and 41% died.
When the asteroid named 2014 J025 passed by the Earth in April, it came within 1.1 million miles of the planet — a close shave by cosmic standards and also the nearest in more than a decade. And J025 was big. At nearly a mile across, it could have killed tens of millions if it had hit a heavily populated area. While its path was a matter of astronomy, J025’s discovery was largely a matter of luck.
Posner’s book brought much needed attention to the issue, in part because it was a judge writing about the risks of an asteroid strike, not a scientist. But there is still much more to prepare ourselves, without breaking the budget. At the cost of $500 to $750 million, NASA could put an infrared-sensing telescope in a Venus-like orbit, which would help identify asteroids that can’t currently be spotted from the ground because they are obscured by the sun’s glare.