Asteroids headed toward earth are a popular plotline in movies, but those not well versed in the sciences might not know how to take news there’s one coming near us in real-life.
With the asteroid called 2012 DA14 set to come close to earth on Friday, KIRO Radio’s Luke Burbank Show decided to call up a man known for his ability to explain science to us laymen.
While Burbank was hoping famed Science Guy Bill Nye would calm his fears, he actually says this type of thing is something to be concerned about.
“If one of these things hit Seattle, that’s it,” says Nye. “It’s not like, oh no there’ll be damage, some windows will be blown out. No, the whole place is leveled.”
Nye says an asteroid the size of 2012 DA14 hit over Siberia in 1908, and even though the asteroids disintegrate at the force of the earth’s atmosphere, the sheer power still causes serious damage on earth.
“This is what happened over Siberia. It blew down trees over 200 square kilometers. A Mount Saint Helens kind of explosion,” says Nye. “It was just the pressure, the shock wave from this thing.”
And that’s the damage from a 45-meter asteroid. If they get up over 50 to 100 meters, Nye says the damage can be even more severe.
“Then you’ve got continent destroying, tidal waves, wipe out the world’s economy sort of things.”
Nye says scientists are assured this asteroid passing “very close” by earth – around 17,000 miles away – on Friday won’t hit anything, but he says the fact is, another probably will, and in the not too distant future.
“It’s very likely, that somebody in the next couple generations, your kids or their kids kids are going to have to deal with it.”
Scientists are only aware of about 1 percent of these smaller objects that threaten the earth, says Nye.
“In other words, there’s 99 percent more of these 45-meter objects, half a football field objects, that we don’t know when they’ll cross the earth’s orbit, how fast they’re going, whether they’re spinning, and so if you like to worry about things, this is a great opportunity.”
There is one upside. Nye says we’re the first generation of humans that can actually do something about it.
“As far as anybody knows, the ancient dinosaurs did nothing about the asteroid impact. They let it happen,” says Nye. “We could if we can identify these things, we could go out there with a space craft and change their speed.”
“If you could identify it 10 years out or 20 years ahead of time, it would be in a sense straightforward for space-faring nations to get together and build a rocket to go out there and just whack it, just run into it, a kinetic impacter.”
Luckily, we won’t need to do that in this case. But this won’t be the last time we’ll see 2012 DA14. Nye says in 2080 it looks like the asteroid will make another close path. Hopefully by that time the kinetic impacter will be ready.