All eyes are on the asteroid Apophis, but a new threat--just 460 feet wide--dominated the conversation at a recent meeting of the UN Action Team on near-Earth objects (NEOs). Known as 2011 AG5, the asteroid could well be on a collision course with Earth in 2040, and some are already calling on scientists to figure out how to deflect it.
For all the apocalypse talk that gets tossed around by psuedo-scientists and religious blowhards, rarely do we hear mention of Apophis, the 50 million-ton asteroid that actually might come close enough to Earth to warrant an end-of-the-world scare sometime in 2029. In that year it will pass so close to us that we'll be able figure the trajectory for its return trip in 2036. If it passes through an area of space near our home planet known as the "keyhole," it spells doom--on its return pass in 2036 it likely would strike us.
Most asteroid diversion schemes tend to involve some kind of impact – an explosion, a crash, a violent shove – but a French researcher has proposed an intriguing plan to alter the course of the asteroid Apophis before it swings into Earth’s neighborhood in 2036: offer the asteroid some shade. A fleet of solar sail spacecraft could shift Aphophis’s course by simply shielding it from solar radiation, the researcher says.
Leave it to Russia to jumpstart the long-debated idea of deflecting killer asteroids that might threaten Earth. A top Russian space official announced just prior to the New Year that he wants to put together a mission for heading off the space rock Apophis, which represents a poster child of sorts for the risk of Near-Earth Objects (NEOs). But NASA astronomers caution that a failed deflection attempt could simply make matters worse.