The best protection that NASA’s chief could offer, if an asteroid was heading to Earth, was “pray”.
This year alone, we have seen a “close” incident of massive space bodies in close proximity to Earth. The question is: What must be done if one is on a collision course with us?
Earlier this year, YouTube was ablaze with recorded footage of a remarkable and terrifying event in Russia. In the middle of February, a meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia during the morning. A bright streaking trail tore through the sky, followed by an incredible light. There was then a sonic boom, which shattered glass, shook cars and caused injuries to about 400 people. A 6000-square-foot roof from a Zinc Plant fell.
Though this was a terrifying event, no one was seriously injured or killed.
The question is: What do we do with much larger bodies heading for our planet?
Firstly, we must understand the difference between space bodies: meteors, meteorites, comets, and asteroids.
Meteoroids, Meteors & MeteoritesA small rock or debris particle from the solar system is called a meteoroid. The range is not that large: from the a grain of dust to 10m metres in diameter.
A meteor, on the other hand, is a meteoroid that has burnt up and passed through Earth’s atmosphere. Often called a “shooting star”, what we’re actually looking at is a meteoroid that has entered and is passing through.
Those meteoroids that do not break up after entering the atmosphere, and collide with the Earth’s surface, are called meteorites.
Small solar bodies which orbit the sun are called comets. They are commonly depicted with a long, blazing tail that comes from solar radiation.
Similar to comets, asteroids are also bodies that orbit the sun made of rock and metal. They do not however have a visible outline and tail, like comets.
Considering how small meteorites are, it’s obvious that it was either an asteroid or a comet that killed the dinosaurs (assuming they were killed by a Near Earth Object).
Assuming one such large object is heading for us, what can we do to combat it or prevent the inevitable destruction?
What we can doScience-writer Phil Plait points out that an object just 10 kilometers could, if it struck our planet, eliminate all of us. This makes it pivotal that we continue our search for Near-Earth Objects (NEO), despite concerns that such objects won’t hit for a very long time, statistically speaking.
There are ways to combat an incoming NEO, should we have to. Many of these solutions aren’t fully funded or available, but should be possible in the future.
For example, we could use nuclear weapons to steer or destroy the incoming object. It would be much harder to land one directly on the incoming object, so we could also detonate one nearby. This should (hopefully) fling it off course. We could also pull it in different directions, using infinitesimal tugs from nearby controlled objects – like a satellite – since every object has gravity. One student even suggested tethering a NEO to a ballast and shooting the ballast away from Earth, pulling the NEO with it.
These and other ideas derive from methods from various areas: scientific journals, presentations delivered at an oil conference, and elsewhere.
Those these ideas might sound like science-fiction our future might depend on making them science fact.
Author Bio: Terrence is a long-time writer, reader and researcher, and shares ideas and information on a wide range of topics.