Hidden Nook

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005



Preventing Armageddon


[Media Source*]

(Editor's note: Not this Armageddon, but rather this Armageddon)

(New Scientist Space) NASA scientists have come up with a surprisingly simple yet effective way to deflect an Earth-bound asteroid--park a large spacecraft close by and let gravity do the work. [...]

"Most people think of the Hollywood treatment--throw a nuclear weapon at it," says Edward Lu, a NASA scientist and astronaut who developed the idea. But this would produce shattered pieces, some of which might still head towards Earth. "That's the blast-and-hope strategy," Lu adds.

Although this proposal might dash the hopes of the Pentagon, as well as Hollywood's proposed solution (debunked over here) it would provide a more realistic way in dealing with "earth killing" asteroids. NASA currently has the technology to build a spacecraft of enormous size, as evidenced by Prometheus programme, and reassuringly, also has the details mapped out to deal with these deadly objects.

(New Scientist Space) For a 200-metre-wide asteroid, the spacecraft would need to weigh about 20 tonnes and lurk 50 metres from its target for about a year to change its velocity enough to knock it off course.

"This is hands down the best idea I have seen," says Erik Asphaug, a planetary scientist at the University of California at Santa Cruz. "This will work, but you need to put a large enough spacecraft out there at the right time." [...]

The strategy crucially relies on our ability to detect an asteroid threat about 20 years in advance. For larger asteroids this is realistic.

Other ideas outside nuking the impending object were painting the asteroid white, which (in theory) would change the amount of energy the object radiated and change its coarse. Although also a noble idea, it would not only be quite expensive but would not guarantee any success as the sun could send the object an a more direct path towards Earth dooming the entire population.

With its budget restraints, NASA would probably pursue the "gravitational plan" as any object over one kilometer will probably be discovered by either an amateur astronomer or by NASA's NEO Program. After all, the closest threat right now only has a 3 percent chance of hitting Earth. What is there to fear?

Image Credit: Photo from New Scientist Space.



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By Darnell Clayton • 12:20 PM • Email Post • •

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