1600 Asteroids Could Potentially Strike Earth. Here’s How NASA Plans To Protect Us


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Are you aware that there are about 30,000 objects that are currently floating near Earth and can someday strike it? NASA has actually labeled 1,600 of them as ‘potentially hazardous’. Such an impact can either result in broken windows or in global extinction and that is why scientists are working very hard to find and either deflect or destroy such space rocks.

A big strike has a very low probability of taking place, the consequences would be enormously catastrophic as per Nahum Melamed, a project manager with the Aerospace Corporation. He recently spoke at an event for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in Manhattan Beach, California about ‘planetary defense’. Let’s take a look at what went down during this speech.

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Space features a ton of junk that ranges from old satellites to spacecraft that have been discarded. The situation is getting worse since humans are continuously launching more things into the sky.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It

Melamed said that the space debris is ‘sure to become a serious problem’, but there’s even a larger problem posing a threat in the form of asteroids that are close to Earth.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 2

The space rocks are leftovers from the formation of solar system (4.6 billion years ago) and even one of those slamming into the Earth would imply the end of us.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 3

The scenario is highly unlikely but the smaller asteroids often come quite close to Earth and thus the need for scientists to keep an eye on them.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 4

In October 2015, scientists were tracking a total of 875 large steroids close to Earth and out of them, 163 have been termed as potentially dangerous considering that their orbit could eventually cross that of Earth’s.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 5

“We are in a shooting gallery,” Melamed said.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 6

For instance, during 2015 scientists spotted a 1,300ft.-wide asteroid only three weeks before it made its pass close to Earth. This time is not enough to prevent a collision, in fact it is not enough to even carry out an evacuation.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 7

“Think about evacuating North America in three weeks,” Melamed said. It served as another wake up call for the scientists.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 8

There have been other recent calls recently as well.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 9

Back in 2012, a rock with a width of 65ft made it to the skies of Chelyabinsk, Russia. It broke up and the explosion shattered hundreds of windows and about 1,200 people were injured.

The Chelyabinsk fireball exploded some 30 miles away from a nuclear stockpile. The results could have been way worse – Melamed stated.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 11

Another event happened in 1908, Tunguska event, where a larger object levelled 770 sq. miles of Siberian forest. No one was injured since it happened in a remote location.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 12

Moving back in time, there is also the Chicxulub impact crater in Mexico. It was discovered in the 1970s and is believed to have been the reason why dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 13

It is humankind’s luck that such events are quite rare. Melamed said that such events happen ‘maybe once every 100 million years.’Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 14

The scary question to ask is ‘what if’. What will do about an inbound comet or asteroid?Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 15

The answer is two-fold. Firstly, monitoring. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory keeps a daily check on near-Earth objects on its website.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 16

An approach close to Earth is measured in astronomical units (AU), the average distance between sun and Earth, or lunar distance (LD), a measure that makes use of 238,900 miles from Earth to moon as a reference.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 17

The closest approach as of December 2015 is 5.2 LD – over 1.2 million miles away.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 18

You can breathe easy now. Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 19

Despite this, NASA doesn’t have a concrete option as to how to defend against the space rocks.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 20

It is working on planetary defense measures that come down to two options; deflect or destroy.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 21

For deflection; NASA would have to launch a heavy and unmanned spacecraft and ensure a collision with the object in order to impart a nudge. Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 22

This approach is known as ‘non-nuclear kinetic impact’ and the asteroid would, in most likelihood, remain intact.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 23

“That push will hopefully push it away from Earth.” Melamed said.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 24

If we learn about a dangerous asteroid say years in advance, then a spacecraft’s weak gravity could be used for pulling an asteroid into a narrow miss. Technologies such as lasers, mirrors, reflective paint and event nets could also help.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 25

If there isn’t a lot of warning, then the only solution is a nuke strike.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 26

A powerful nuclear missile can be employed if there’s not much time to prepare a launch for the deflection. The idea is to explode it into bits.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 27

The consequences are, however, controversial. It might just end up converting a big threat into smaller, and many, small threats.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 28

However, a NASA study back in 2007 proved that this approach is 10-100 times more effective at protecting Earth than going for nuke-less options. But at least one NASA study in 2007 figures nukes would be 10 to 100 times more effective at protecting Earth than non-nuclear options.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 29

A supercomputer was used in 2012 for confirming if it would work and guess what? It works!Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 30

It still does come with a lot of risks involved.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 31

The key still remains to be aware of what’s out there and that is why Melamed stresses upon educating the public and calls for more resources to monitor the space.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 32

He has helped in creating an app that makes the process of saving the world from asteroids into a game and is hosted on the JPL website.Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 33

According to National Space Society, a large asteroid will cross paths with Earth, “Maybe this won’t happen for millions of years. Maybe in 15 minutes. We don’t know.”Planetary Defense And Why We Need It 34

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1600 Asteroids Could Potentially Strike Earth. Here’s How NASA Plans To Protect Us

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