ASTRONOMER: Here's The Real Way To Defend Earth From Asteroids

phil plait

An asteroid smashing into Earth could be an extinction-level event, and there’s a big one heading right for us.

Apophis is an asteroid that was spotted in 2004 and is 215 yards across: bigger than a football field. It’s scheduled to pass Earth on  April 13, 2029, and again on April 13, 2036.

Thankfully we have some measure of protection.  Astronomer Phil Plait discussed the asteroid threat and what we can do about it in a fascinating TED lecture a few months ago. We picked out the highlights from his lecture.

A long-ago encounter with an asteroid happened 65 million years ago, creating the Gulf of Mexico.

Another encounter with an asteroid called Peekskill happened in 1992. The relatively tiny rock, about the size of a school bus cruised across the country, breaking up along the way, and did this to a car in New York

If an asteroid is headed for Earth, NASA has technology to send out a space probe and hit it hard enough to change its orbit. Scientists tested this technology by moving a comet in 2005:

deep impact Nasa

Photo: Nasa

For more control, scientists could send up a probe with an ion drive engine and park it near the asteroid, using a small amount of force to gently finesse it to a safe orbit, Plait said. It might also be possible to mine the rock.

Here’s what an asteroid looks like through a telescope, though scientists are investing in better technology:

asteroid telescope

Photo: Phil Plait

“That’s the difference between us and the dinosaurs,” Plait said. “We have a space program and we can vote so we can change the future.”

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