Scientists got jittery when the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 smashed into Jupiter in July 1994, since they realized it could have hit us. Now that asteroid NT7 is scheduled to hit the Earth on February 1st, 2060, they're telling us the odds against being hit are billions to one. This doesn't reassure the teenager in the U.K. who had a meteorite land on her foot.
Siobhan Cowton, age 14, was getting into the family car outside when a stone she describes as "quite hot" fell from the sky and landed on her foot. "I saw it fall from above roof height," she says. "It looked very unusual, with a bubbled surface and tiny indentations like volcanic lava. It was shiny on one side and looked rusty as if it contained iron."
Dr. Benny Peiser, of Liverpool John Moores University, thinks it could have come from Mars. He says, "It could be billions of years old and come from the earliest formation of the solar system."
But what about that asteroid the size of a football field that?s heading our way? Hermann Burchard of Oklahoma State University wants to fly a spacecraft alongside it and inflate a giant airbag, using gas produced by a chemical reaction. The spacecraft would then push the bag against the asteroid to nudge it into another orbit. The question is, do we have an airbag that?s tough enough for the job?
Erik Asphaug of the University of California thinks that attaching a rocket motor to the asteroid might do the same job. "Asteroids and comets are not so fragile that you can't touch them?they get cratered all the time and don't fall apart," he says. "So you just need to apply gradual thrust over time. This can be done more simply without bags of Mylar getting in your way."
Meanwhile, Siobhan?s father Niel says, "We will have [the meteorite] mounted in a glass presentation case so she can keep it for the rest of her life. After all, it is not every day you get hit by a meteorite. The odds of winning the Lottery are better."
The ancient Mayans watched the sky constantly?what were they looking for? Find out from ?Galactic Alignment? by John Major Jenkins, click here.
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