Russia's proposal for an Armageddon-style mission to deflect the space rock Apophis seemed bold, but it's not the only one fretting about a catastrophic impact on Earth. The U.S. National Research Council (NRC) released a new report that calls for an international asteroid defense agency that can organize a proper mission to counter possible asteroid threats, New Scientist reports.
The NRC repeats some grim facts about Earth's current lack of readiness to deal with giant space rocks flying at it. Current sky surveys will not be able to find 90 percent of near-Earth objects that are 460 feet (140 m) or larger by 2020, as the U.S. Congress instructed NASA in 2005 to ensure they could. As always, a lack of funding has proved the main problem here.
An asteroid-hunting space telescope could go a long way toward playing catch-up and reaching the survey goal by 2022, but at the hefty cost of more than $1 billion.
Even if scientists spot a looming asteroid threat, few immediate solutions exist. The NRC runs down past proposals that range from "slow push" or "slow pull" gravity tractors to small kinetic collisions by spacecraft that could nudge a space rock off course -- assuming that there's decades to spare. But only nuclear explosions stand ready as the current practical means for dealing with the biggest threats in the form of space rocks greater than 1 km in diameter.
Still, several planned missions offer hope of not only studying asteroids for weaknesses, but even using them as a sort of "Plymouth Rock" stepping stone to colonize Mars. Such missions could represent small yet crucial steps toward generating interest in funding more asteroid detection and deflection methods.
Keep in mind that the NRC's plans primarily cover large asteroid threats. Plenty of smaller meteorites still fall to Earth every year, including one that crashed through the roof of a doctor's office in Virginia on Thursday. That culprit rock was identified by the geologist husband of one of the office receptionists, SPACE.com notes.
[via New Scientist]
$1 billion for a asteroid hunting space telescope is 1/50 the amount spent on the false threat of global warming. Build it and deploy it. Such an impact would be far more catastrophic to life on earth than a slight increase in temperature.
Along with the challenge of averting asteroids, should we not also be developing emergency response plans? Astronomers have proven themselves to be very accurate with impact predictions (location/time). This gives us some advantage of regional response in the event that we haven't yet the capacity to effect an object's impact. As logistically challenging as mass evacuation is, it is no less ambitious than tackling an asteroid, and far worse than doing nothing at all.
Someone call Bruce and Ben!
My question is would a nuclear weapon explode in space? If it did what would it look like or do to stop an asteroid? Would it disintegrate it? Have we ever tested a nuke in space?
@tavigreiner: I couldn't agree more. Conventional methods of "nuking" an asteroid probably aren't going to work. Why not invest a billion in anti-gravity electromagnetism or nanotechnology? We should be advancing society rather than worrying about random events with a low probability of happening. Besides, if an asteroid like on the shown above hit Earth, all life would be extinguished, even if we knew it was coming or not.
Depends on what you mean by "nuking." Nukes burn a nuclear fuel, and do not rely on the presence of an oxygen atmosphere (unlike conventional exsplosives). They will burn and release lots of energy, even in space.
Dissolving an asteroid, or even blowing it up, however, is a matter of timing. Blow it to pieces, even to dust, and you will do very little to reduce the asteroid in mass.
(Think of it like shattering a shotgun slug into shot - still an once of lead, only in several pieces).
Those pieces have an increased surface area. That increased surface area will increase the effects of friction on the asteroid surface as it passes through the atmosphere reducing the amount of mass that reaches the surface by increaseing the amount that burns up during entry. It also would spread the damage area around the world, creating more, but smaller scale, area of damage without the more "life as we know it" consequences ("nuclear" winter, etc).
If done too far out, however, the mass will reconstitute into a single mass (consider how little difference there is between a ten pound rock and a bag of ten pounds of gravel as they hurtle towards a glass window). So, nuking becomes a cosmic game of chicken.
That is why the space community (who are schooled to safty and triple redundancy) perfer plans that push or pull the asteroid out of a collision course. The real problem there is that space is big and little changes are hard to measure.
Firing nukes to detonate nearby are just as prone to putting some "spin" on an asteroid as move it, and considering the mass of the biggest and baddest, would not even do much of that.
@Oakspar77777 altering the spin of an asteroid is all that is required to change its trajectory, provided we do this several decades early enough.
A nuke may also alter the albedo enough to change the way the sun affects its trajectory.
Here is a thought. Didn't we already test the ability of detonating a nuclear bomb on an asteroid?
That asteroid being the planet EARTH! Was there any data gathered during these trials and test to see the impact on the Earth's orbit? Sure the Earth is orders of magnitude HUGE compared to any asteroid or comet, but the same principles still apply.
Not only that, but what about some of those massive volcanic eruptions. Shouldn't they have affected the Earth's orbit in some minuscule why?
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I cannot see how a nuke could not knock an asteroid off course? I mean if you take the most powerful nukes we got and just bombard an asteroid with them then i cannot see how this would not knock it off course?
Last time I checked, denotating a nuclear weapon in space does not produce a blast wave, like on earth, needed to destroy an inbound asteroid.
Space is a vacuum and thus there is no air to create blast.
The denotation just releases massive amounts of radiation and EMP. --See space denotation tests performed by the U.S. Gov't.
High speed ramming or creating a small gravitation pull to move the rock off course are probably the most promising defenses.
it's about time.
The space shuttle is "steerable" using blast of gas from it's thrusters.
In order to steer a comet or asteroid you would need to do the same. Land a probe on the asteroid or comet and find water or other gases, then compress gases or vaporize water with a blast to act as a thruster.
We would need at least 1 year's notice, or we would have to ship large canisters of compressed gas (hydrogen) or come up with a way to compress the small amounts of hydrogen and helium floating out there in space.
You don't need a blast wave to knock an asteroid off course with a nuke. The X-rays and other radiation from the nuke will vaporize the material on one side of the asteroid, and these hot expanding gases will provide the push.