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Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Armageddon May Be Real

An asteroid collision with Earth
An asteroid impact from an artists point of view 
     The Earth is in danger. As we know, space objects are in constant motion and every now and them, the trajectories meet and they collide. It may be useful on the pool table, but astral impacts are catastrophes beyond our ability to comprehend.

For a start the Earth itself is created from numerous impacts, way back in the good old days.

A T-Rex in the jungle
Do you have a minute to talk about The Chicxulub Impact?
The great extinction of T-Rex and company is also the result of an impact with an asteroid. The Chicxulub Impact happened 65 million years ago. The only thing that has left to remind us of it is a 180 kilometre wide crater at the edge of the Yucatan Peninsula. Supposedly, a ten kilometre wide asteroid hit the Earth at that time and eradicated 75 percent of all existing species. Of course, impacts like that happen every 100 million years, so they are not the cause for our concern.

However, there are more recent events that really make us wonder if we are taking enough defensive measures to protect ourselves from the cosmos.

Tunguska Area Nowadays
The area nowadays
The Tunguska explosion in Russia in 1908 is one of the most notorious meteor events in modern history. In an altitude of 5 to 10 kilometres above the surface of the Earth, an asteroid exploded in the atmosphere. The explosion was estimated to have the blast power of 15 megaton of TNT, 1000 times stronger than the atomic bomb dropped in Hiroshima. It flattened 2,150 square kilometres of Siberian forests. Had this gone off over a populated area, it would have been the biggest disaster in the world since WW II.

The Chelyabinks meteor as seen from the ground
No, It's not a Syrian airstrike..
This year another atmospheric burst occurred over Russia. On the 15th of February the Chelyabinsk meteor entered the atmosphere and exploded 23 kilometres above ground. It was considerably smaller as opposed to the Tunguska event, 30-40 kilotons, however, fragments from the explosion rained over populated area. About 1500 people sought medical help. There were 7,200 damaged building in the impact area.
The event really set off the media in a series of questions on why aren't we preventing these disasters.

A NASA Satellite in orbit of the Earth
A NASA surveillance satellite 
 As a matter of fact the world is working on planetary defence strategies for six years. However, no effective measure has been applied so far.

There are near a million space bodies that potentially can endanger Earth.

To protect the Earth from other astral collisions, we have to create a warning network that monitors the skies and spots potential dangers early enough. It's the backbone to any effective measure. It essentially consists out of one or a few satellites designed to hunt asteroids and other space objects that have an estimated trajectory anywhere near Earth.

The ASE - Association of Space Explorers wants to urge a policy to build and deploy an asteroid hunter satellite by 2020. Technology and money shouldn't be a problem, as Russell Schweickart, a former astronaut and ASE co-founder, states that the whole project would require one percent of NASA's budget. If this is not the problem, it has to be organizational.

Once a pre-emptive warning system is in a effect, there has to be a strategy committee that authorizes the effective measures to remedy the problem.

The Armageddon Movie Blu-ray Cover
What caption is needed for Bruce Willis and Batman

Contrary to what "Armageddon" shows in their movie, no huge explosions will help deal with an asteroid that comes our way. Actually, they would even worsen the situation. The Russian meteor events prove that if you blow up the object, it essentially becomes an enormous frag-grenade.

Instead, what we need to do is change the trajectory of the space object. One way is kinetic impact. In theory, if we shoot a large and massive enough object into space and get it to collide with the asteroid in the right moment and angle, we can redirect it's course to safely pass our planet.

There is one barrier we have to overcome, though. If we nudge it off course, it will still pass close enough to the Earth to scare us. Nobody wants a huge chunk of space rock to float around over their roof. People's trust has to be completely in the hands of the committee that makes the decisions, for the plan to work.

Another option is gravitational pull. As we know from physics class, every object that has mass, has a certain gravitational field. If we send a controllable space craft and put it close enough to the asteroid, in theory, it can exhibit gravitational attraction. That way we can slowly pull it away from the Earth. This method, of course, stays strictly in the experimental physics field, as we have no way to make a practical test. The Earth and Sun are too close to be able to conduct researches.

The best thing to do at the moment is full acknowledgement of the threat and full disclosure to the public. The nations have to be informed about the matter, so they can give their trust and their support to act in advance.