A giant asteroid is hurtling straight for earth – that’s the premise of many a Hollywood script. But for a while recently, scientists thought that could be happening for real.
A week from Friday, a 150-foot-long asteroid, dubbed 2012 DA 14, will pass within 17,000 miles from planet Earth. Now that may not sound like a close shave but that’s only 1/13th the way to the moon, so all things considered, that’s pretty close.
That got the Luke Burbank Show thinking – what would we or could we do in the case of an asteroid heading our way.
“Scientists have a lot of ideas about what they might do. I mean the problem is none of them have really been tested in the real world,” said Clare Moscowitz from Space.com. “The leading idea is to launch a space craft to actually slam into the asteroid. The thinking is, if you can kick it just a little bit off course, you can probably kick it so it won’t hit the earth because a small change in it’s orbit will put it in a little different trajectory.”
Moscowitz reassured us a little, but she also warned us that kicking maneuver was also fraught with danger.
“You really do need to get your orbital mechanics right. You need to have your math sound and clear. You don’t want to push it even closer toward the earth and make it worse.”
And would we have enough lead time to pull this feat off?
“We would need quite some time. First we would need to build the spacecraft, we don’t just have those lying around,” said Moscowitz. “We would probably need a few years at least. Who knows, if you have a last minute scenario, the world isn’t going to go out without trying – we may pull something out of our sleeve.”
Well, that doesn’t sound as reassuring as we’d hoped.
And it got worse.
“See this is another problem with asteroids: they don’t glow. They’re just these tiny chunks of rock. Yes, we can see them – they reflect sunlight. But they’re small and we really can’t see them too well until they come close to us which is why we didn’t discover this one until just recently. We tend to only see these things when they’ve gotten quite close to the sun and close to us.”
But that makes it sound like we’re doomed. Is there a scenario in which we do could find a way to avert annihilation?
“You know, I’d like to think that we could. We have a lot of spacecrafts out there in orbit, defunct things that we wouldn’t mind losing. So perhaps we could launch some sort of rocket. I think we could pull something together, to utilize what we already have in sitting there in orbit and maybe hit this thing. But obviously – the more lead time, the better,” said Moscowitz.
And besides, this is not really ever going to happen is it?
“I think that we don’t know enough yet to put the risks so definitively that most scientists list an asteroid impact as, really sort of up there, in terms of things that could really sort of ‘do us in,'” explained Moscowitz. “So there’s a real threat, but at the same time, there’s entire teams of people that are constantly vigilant, scanning the skies for these things. I feel personally hopeful we would get enough lead time to make a fighting stand.”
And if in the end it comes down to Bruce Willis bailing us all out, “I think if that’s there best plan, we’re in trouble.”