By Tom Cohen, CNN
The good news is that the chances an asteroid big enough to destroy a continent or all of civilization will hit Earth this year are only one in 20,000, a congressional panel learned Tuesday.
The bad news is the government needs to spend billions of dollars in coming years for new technology to prevent such a possible catastrophe, regardless of the low probability, experts told the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
"The odds are very small, but the potential consequences of such an event are so large, it makes sense to take the risk seriously," contended John Holdren, who directs President Barack Obama's Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Washington (CNN) - In 1985, astronomer Carl Sagan wrote the novel "Contact" about a vast U.S. radio telescope that receives the first communication with extraterrestrial life. The best-seller became a 1997 film starring Jodie Foster that opened many eyes to how humans might first encounter space aliens.
Now, planning is under way for what will be the world's largest radio telescope, an array of 3,000 antennae set up in remote regions of the Southern Hemisphere that will have at least 50 times more capacity than anything before - including the Expanded Very Large Array (EVLA) that was the setting for the "Contact" film.
Called the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), it will bring closer the mind-boggling possibilities explored in the book and film, with new information on the origin of the universe and the formation of galaxies and black holes. The expanded reception of SKA might even capture that first extraterrestrial contact.
However, unlike in the book and film, the United States won't be a main player, at least for the next decade.