The dinosaurs died when an asteroid hit the Earth, but we’re determined not to. Astronomers say they’re having success in finding every large asteroid that poses a threat to life on Earth. The next step will be to look for smaller objects that could cause localized destruction if they impacted the Earth. But once they find them, what can they do about them? Nudge them out of the way.
NASA’s Lindley Johnson says, “The survey officially started in 1998 and to date more than 700 objects of an estimated population of about 1,100 have been discovered, so the effort is now believed to be over 70% complete and well on the way to meeting its objective by 2008.”
Maggie Fox writes that next, NASA will begin to look for smaller objects that might destroy a city. Astronomers say they think they can locate everything half a mile in diameter or larger that’s aiming for the Earth.
Last September, astronomers discovered asteroid “2003 QQ47” that was due to hit the Earth on March 21, 2014, with an that would equal 20 million Hiroshima atomic bombs. But now they’ve decided it won?t hit us, after all.
How bad will it be if an asteroid hits the Earth where you live? Researchers Jay Melosh, and Gareth Collins can now give you all the details, because they?ve created a computer program that measures the amount of destruction a particular impact will produce in a specific location. It measures the thermal radiation that will be given out, the earthquakes that will generated, the debris thrown out by the collision and the air blast. It also calculates the damage to buildings and predicts how many trees will be blown down.
David Whitehouse writes in bbcnews.com that astronauts Rusty Schweickart and Edward Lu say an unmanned spacecraft should be launched that would test various ways of deflecting an oncoming asteroid by nudging it into another path that would pass by the Earth, instead of hitting us. Schweickart says, “The media and the general public realize that asteroids are of more than passing interest. More and more people are coming to know that some few of these asteroids do not silently pass the Earth, but indeed crash in, largely unannounced. On the rare occasions when this happens they can wreak havoc of a magnitude unprecedented in human history.”
To solve this problem, Schweickart says NASA should “adopt the goal of altering the orbit of an asteroid, in a controlled manner, by 2015.” There should be practice runs because “the first attempt to deflect an asteroid should not be when it counts for real, because there are no doubt many surprises in store as we learn how to manipulate asteroids.
“We are suggesting picking an asteroid of about [650 feet]. A [640 foot] asteroid is capable of penetrating the atmosphere and striking the ground with an energy of 600 megatons. Should it land in the ocean (as is likely), it will create an enormous tsunami that could destroy coastal cities.”
The spacecraft would only have to move the asteroid a small amount to put it into a new path that would bypass the Earth. “However, this is still a very difficult task since the mass of a [650 foot] asteroid is of order 10 million tons.”
Astronomer Michael Griffin says, “Although the probability of the Earth being hit by a large object in this century is low, the effects of an impact are so catastrophic that it is essential to prepare a defense against such an occurrence.”
Lindley Johnson says, “At the current state of knowledge it is about as likely to happen next week as in a randomly selected week a thousand years from now.”
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