Photo: Wikimedia Commons
A giant asteroid has caught the attention of scientists who fear that the space rock could hit the Earth in the year 2040.According to Leonard David of Space.com, the asteroid, named 2011 AG5, currently has about a 1 in 625 chance of hitting the Earth. If it does, scientists at the Near-Earth Object Observations Program at NASA estimate that it will make contact on February 5, 2040. Of course, neither the probability of contact nor the date have been set in stone, as scientists continue to observe the rock.
The asteroid is believed to be about 460 feet wide, and as a point of reference, scientists have generally agreed that the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs was about 6 miles wide.
Still, concern over the asteroid has been brought up at a number of venues including the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space held earlier this month.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told Space.com that 2011 AGH is “high on NASA’s list of NEOs [Near-Earth Objects] to monitor for impact hazard potential.” But he added that there is still time.
But don’t worry. In the event that the asteroid does come too close to comfort, scientists have come up with ways to prevent that from happening, courtesy again of Space.com:
Blow It Up
One possible option would be to either break up the asteroid or change its course by slamming a probe into it. The latter seems more probable as scientists have already done something similar. In 2005, NASA launched a probe into the heart of an icy comet.
As for blowing the asteroid up, that would likely involve using a nuclear weapon, which poses two problems: one, convincing a country to use a nuke would be hard, and two, blowing up the asteroid could just result in much smaller rocks flinging themselves into the Earth.
Coax It Away
Another option is launching a small spacecraft that would fly alongside the rock thereby altering the rock’s orbit. The probe’s gravitational pull would shift the asteroid’s trajectory and move it away from Earth. NASA also has done something similar to this and already has a spacecraft orbiting another space rock.
Use “Mirror Bees”
Ok, this one seems like a plan B type idea. The theory is to send a swarm of small spacecrafts mounted with mirrors to the asteroid. The mirrors would then reflect sunlight into the asteroid thereby vaporizing it. As hard as that is to believe, scientists say that the process is not too far off from being a viable option.
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