Can Humankind Avoid The Fate Of The Dinosaurs? What If We Discover A Potential Planet-Killing Asteroid On A Collision Course With Earth? NASA And A Team Of International Scientists Will Seek Answers This Week About What We Might Do About It
Tim Collins and Joe Pinkstone posted an April 26, 2019 article to the website of the DailyMail, with the title above. They write that “NASA is conducting planetary defense drills to see what would happen if an apocalyptic space rock was heading straight for Earth. Participants will discuss potential preparations for studying an asteroid or comet, as well as how we might deflect it, and/or mitigate the damage it might cause. Boy, I’d sure like to be a ‘fly on the wall’ for this one.
For at least the past two decades, NASA has been scanning space — looking for Near Earth Objects (NEOs) — which are asteroids or comets that orbit the Sun, and come within 30 million miles of Earth’s orbit.” The Moon, by example, is about 230,000 miles from Earth; and the Earth is about 93 million miles from the Sun.
NASA scientists and engineers, as well as their international colleagues, will gather next week — April 29 – May 3 – at the 2019 Planetary Defense Conference in College Park, Maryland. Mr. Collins and Mr. Pinkstone write that “a ‘tabletop exercise’ will play out the realistic — but fictional — scenarios for an asteroid or comet on an impact trajectory with Earth.” The NEO Impact Scenario, was developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Center for NEO Studies (CNEOS), at the California Institute for Technologies (CALTECH).
“The asteroid scenario begins with the premise that on March 26, astronomers ‘discovered’ a potential planet-killing asteroid that will pass within 0.5 astronautical miles of Earth,” Mr. Collins and Mr. Pinkstone wrote. “One AU is the distance between the Earth and the Sun, and equates to just slightly less than 93 million miles. “In the fictional simulation, NASA estimates that the asteroid poses a one in one hundred chance of colliding with Earth, with an estimated impact date somewhere near April 29, 2027,” or in approximately eight years. Astronomers first see the asteroid 57 million miles away, but traveling at 31,000 mph on a collision course with Earth. Details of the asteroids shape, size, and composition are not known, though it is estimated it could be anywhere from 330 feet – 1,000 feet in diameter, or potentially 3+ football fields in circumference. Of note, the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs and led to an extended ice age, is estimated to have been anywhere between 6.8 miles to as much as 50.3 miles in diameter.
In addition to the ‘tabletop exercise,’ scientists, astronomers, and engineers will discuss the dangers posed by NEOs and potential courses of action to defeat, or mitigate the threat.
Concern about the potential for a NEO to threaten Earth has been growing in the past decade or so, as NASA acknowledges that there are potentially hundreds of thousands of NEOs that have yet to be discovered and mapped. To that end, NASA announced earlier this month, April 11, 2019, of its intent to fire a small spacecraft directly into an asteroid in October 2022. NASA selected Elon Musk’s SpaceX company to launch its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), which is slated to lift off in June of 2021. “The groundbreaking mission will be the first demonstrated attempt to deflect an asteroid by purposely crashing into it at high speed,” Mr. Collins and Mr. Pinkstone wrote. “After launching from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base atop a Falcon 9 rocket in 2021, the DART craft is expected to reach the object Didymos in October 2022, when it’s 6.8 million miles from Earth. The DART mission relies on what’s known as ‘kinetic impactor’ — in this case, an eight foot long craft with solar/electric propulsion. DART will be targeting the binary, near-Earth asteroid Didymos, which measures roughly 2,600 feet across.”
The threat of a potential existential, or city ‘killing’ asteroid impacting earth has become more realistic and concerning in the past two decades. In addition to this initiative, NASA scientist, Dr. Amy Mainzer believes that the best way to defend the Earth from [potential planet-killing] asteroids, is to build [and dedicate] a new telescope capable of spotting them as soon as possible. Yuan Ren posted an April 16, 2019 article to the news website of the DailyMail.com, writing that Dr. Mainzer’s team “has proposed a new system designed to spot large meteors capable of causing significant damage,” or taking out a large city,” utilizing a new telescope that would identify potential ‘killer rocks,’ — that could eventually threaten Earth — as far out in deep space as possible.
There Could Be Some 430,000 Undiscovered Space ‘Rocks’ Out In Space That Pose A Threat To Earth
Last July 3, 2018, Dr. Detlef Koschny, a senior scientist with the European Space Agency (ESA) told the publication, Space Daily, “Earth is not prepared for deadly strikes from ‘stealth’ asteroids. Our detection systems can only flag these rouge objects just a few hours,” from impact. But, despite their smaller size, these space rocks still wield enough destructive power to obliterate an area the size of Germany. There is an ‘urgent need’ for more telescopes capable of scanning the sky for asteroids on a collision course with Earth,” he added.
“Around 4,300 asteroids between 330 feet (100 meters),and a kilometer (.6 mile) wide have been spotted by NASA, according to scientists,” Harry Pettit wrote in a July 3, 2018 article in the Daily Mail, covering Dr. Koschny’s interview with Space Daily. “But. if the ESA’s predictions are correct,” Mr. Pettit warns, “100 times more– around 430,000 — space rocks are actually out there, and many could pose a threat to Earth. If a 100 meter asteroid hit Earth, it would cause significant damage in an area the size of Germany, and even effect the surrounding region. But. asteroids of this size don’t strike the Earth very often. Maybe every 10,000 years on average. Smaller asteroids measuring 164 feet (50 meters) occur more frequently at around 1 every 1,000 years,” Dr. Koschny said.
If all this wasn’t enough, Mr. Pettit wrote in a May 16, 2018 article, posted in the DailyMail, that “astronomers have lost track of nearly 900 asteroids.” While none are planet-killers, many are of the size that could wipe out an entire major metropolitan area.”
So, this NASA-led ‘table-top exercise’ is a welcome development; and, long overdue. I sure wish I could be a ‘fly -on-the-wall’ at this conference. I wish them well this week.
In a perfect world, we need to develop, deploy, exercise, and test such a space-borne, anti comet/anti-asteroid architecture. At our current budget, priority and emphasis, etc., etc., we won’t have something that far along till the mid-2030s, if then, barring some kind of disruptive, technological leap-ahead. It is where we currently are; and the pace that we’re on; and, not where we need to be.Hopefully we’ll remain lucky. The asteroids……’get a vote.’ Maybe Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and other space visionaries could devote some their efforts in space, to this important, and vexing issue. RCP, fortunascorner.com