Dodging asteroids

March 31, 2009 at 10:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I know it seems like nothing could be worse than being in a couple of wars, suffering an almighty recession and worrying about the effects of climate change, but you’d be wrong:

In troubled economic times, it’s often hard to convince the government to fund space science. Heck, at least those much-studied fruit flies live on our planet. But there’s one field of research that the public should be happy to support: keeping the Earth from being pummeled by asteroids. And there is no shortage of ideas for how to do this.

Earlier this month, a skyscraper-sized asteroid passed within 50,000 miles of Earth — a galactic hair’s breadth separating the planet from an impact like one that flattened 800 square miles of Siberian tundra in 1908.

Then there’s an asteroid spotted in 2004 and called Apophis. Astronomers originally thought it might hit Earth in 2029. Then they decided that it couldn’t. Finally they moved back the clock to 2036.

The uncertainty is understandable, but not exactly reassuring. And even if Apophis misses, some other rock big enough to put a serious dent in Earth and everything living here will take dead aim for us someday. It’s just a matter of time. Some researchers put the odds of a civilization-wrecker at one in the next 300,000 years, others at 1 in 10 for the next century.

But when our luck finally runs out, humanity will have something even more useful: guns. As described in the scheduled proceedings of the upcoming first International Academy of Astronautics Planetary Defense conference, engineers have come up with plenty of ways to nudge an Earth-bound asteroid off-course, or failing that, obliterate it from its existence. Here are some of their ideas.

NB: I’ll just be dumping links for the rest of this week, and will be away from the internet for all of next week. Normal blogging will resume on around 12th or 13th of March

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