Dinosaurs may not be the only ones to see a huge asteroid coming their way. Luckily, humans can develop methods to predict and destroy asteroids before they destroy us.
The Association of Space Explorers, headed by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, submitted a proposal to the United Nations suggesting plans to detect and handle any incoming asteroids that could cause widespread destruction.
An example of such an impending threat is Apophis, a 320-metre asteroid that is predicted to have a 1 in 37 chance of colliding with Earth on April 13, 2029. If it misses, there’d be another potential impact in 2036
What effect would this asteroid have? To give you an idea, Siberia suffered a 45-metre-wide space boulder crashing into a forested area in 1908. About 2,000 square kilometres of trees were obliterated. Fortunately, the area was uninhabited—but, Hadfield says, we can’t always be so lucky.
Every day about 3,000 meteors, smaller, broken pieces of asteroids and comets, hit the earth. Most are unnoticeable because they are so small. The famous asteroid that supposedly annihilated most of the dinosaurs when it collided into the earth around 65 million years ago measured 15 km in diameter.
Asteroids that big rarely hit Earth.
The proposed asteroid detection plan involves a powerful telescope called NEOSSat (Near Earth Object Surveillance Satellite). This $15-million technology will circle 700 km above the Earth and scan for incoming asteroids. Scientists hope to launch it in March 2011. Russell Schweikart, former US astronaut and chair of a 2008 report on asteroid threats, says new telescopes will increase our current knowledge of 7,000 space objects to more than 1,000,000.
Currently, the UN and the Association of Space Explorers are holding workshops to brainstorm ways of averting an asteroid impact. One idea involves shooting a spacecraft into the asteroid to blow it up or throw it off course. Another idea involves a spacecraft called a “gravity tractor” that would hold its position near the incoming asteroid and use gravitational pull to tug the asteroid off course. Offsetting the asteroid could take days (and hundreds of millions of dollars) depending on its size.
However, asteroids sometimes offers unique opportunities. In April, US President Barack Obama set a goal for NASA astronauts to visit a 500-metre wide astronaut by 2025. The astronauts are supposed to ride the asteroid, named “1999-RQ36”, past Earth for two weeks.
Forget the moon, Armstrong. Humans will be flying by it on asteroids.
Until that time comes, the UN and its affiliates in space exploration will continue developing sophisticated technologies aimed at the skies.
Meanwhile, more attention may be paid to these developments with the recent talk of the Mayan calendar predictions. The Maya, an ancient Mesoamerican civilization, created a calendar which suggests that they prophesized the end of the world in late 2012. The cause is not indicated.
As it happens, Chris Hadfield will lead the International Space Station in a mission to observe asteroids up close, geared for late 2012. Coincidence? Perhaps. But with scientists predicting that about 300 asteroids could collide with the earth in the next 100 years, one can only hope that the stars are in our favour.