NASA Planning Killer Asteroid Defense - Apophis is on Its Way in 2036
Decades Needed to Test and Prepare Defense Measures Before Potential Impact
Photo: Near-Earth object (NEO) 99942 otherwise known as Apophis has been designated the most dangerous heavenly body of the century.
March 20, 2007
Associated Content - Denver
Asteroid impact creating disaster on a global scale is the stuff of movies like Armageddon. It is also a potential reality, projected for the year 2036. According to reports, the only thing we can do is plan for the event decades in advance, something governments are not always good at.
In an opinion piece in the International Herald Tribune, a former Apollo astronaut who is now part of an organization whose goal is to protect the earth from asteroid impact has described the problem. NASA has already been given the charter to come up with solutions, in case the long shot becomes a reality. Experts seem to agree that we need 15-30 years to prepare, which means starting now. NASA says they can't move forward without funding. Congress wants a preliminary budget. And so it goes.
An article in the Guardian (UK) discusses the problem further. The asteroid Apophis, named for an ancient Egyptian "spirit of evil and destruction." Various plans include missiles, deflector satellites, and even nuclear warheads. The trouble is, none of it has been tested, much less built, and reactionaries are suggesting things that cooler heads consider more likely to cause problems than solve them. International politics concerning weapons sent into space are involved, and in the end international cooperation may be the best answer.
|* Current chances of impact in 2036 are currently said to be 1 in 5,500
* NASA estimates the effect to be 100,000 times the impact at Hiroshima
* Politicians and scientists must work together as it will take decades to prepare
For those who laugh at the odds, said at this point to be 1 in 5,500 (or better than most lottery odds), that the earth will suffer a catastrophic hit, a new report of a discovery in California found by deep-earth imaging done during oil well related research, reminds us that it has happened before - and more than a few times.
The research in California, reported by the BBC, has uncovered what appears to be a crater buried by time, which is approximately 5.5km wide. It is said to be older than the so-called "Eocene bombardment," when a number of impacts occurred, about 35 million years ago, including a much larger one in the Maryland area. A more recent possible impact is also in the area, dated during the Miocene (5 to 24 million years ago) period, according to the BBC.
The Apophis asteroid, according to NASA as reported by the Guardian, would have an impact effect "100,000 times the energy released in the nuclear blast over Hiroshima." The dust clouds would affect the entire earth, and "thousands of square kilometres" would be directly affected by the impact blast.
Looking at the big picture, scientists quoted by the Guardian say that the issue is not just this single asteroid, and whether we can avoid its impact: "a NEO [near-earth object] larger than 6km, which could cause mass extinction, will collide with Earth every hundred million years. We are overdue for a big one."