We recently posted about an asteroid that flew dangerously close to our planet, and many followers have been wondering what one can do in case a space rock does come plummeting towards our heads.
While our natural inclinations will push us to scream in fear and/or appeal to our favorite deity, there’s a lot that can be done to prepare, react, and maybe even stop threatening objects on a collision course with our planet.
Step One, Don’t Panic
Asteroids and comets are a threat. They are a real and present danger to our planet. That said, we have not been sitting idling. NASA’s Spaceguard survey has mapped the position and trajectories of 90 percent of the largest near-Earth objects (NEOs), those larger than 1 kilometer (0.62 miles). The impact from any of these objects would cause worldwide devastation, global cooling, and mass extinctions.
The good news is that none of these appear to be a threat, so at least on that front we can rest easy. We know of about 15,000 NEOs out of a likely 1,000,000, and both NASA and the European Space Agency have programs dedicated to discovering as many of them as possible.
NASA is now aiming to discover 90 percent of the NEOs larger than 140 meters (460 feet). These NEOs are a little bit more worrying, as we have so far discovered only about 8,000 objects between 100 and 1,000 meters (0.06 and 0.62 miles), with many still missing from the roll-call. If one of these bad boys were to hit land, they could create a crater as large as a small city. If they hit an ocean, they would generate a tsunami.
Smaller objects wouldn’t be too dangerous on water, but they could be problematic on land. They’d most likely burn up in the atmosphere, but the shockwave could be still very dangerous. The Chelyabinsk meteor that fell in Russia in 2013 caused damage to over 7,200 buildings and injured 1,491 people. And it was only 20 meters (65 feet) in diameter.
Initiatives like Asteroid Day were created with the precise intention to raise awareness of such a danger.
Meteor Crater panoramic view in Winslow, Arizona, USA. Shutterstock/Nikolas_jkd
Getting Ready For The Worst
While the threat is there, the odds appear to be in our favor. The largest object that will have a close shave with our planet is Apophis in 2029 and then again in 2036. There’s only a 1-in-250,000 chance that it would hit Earth, but the first close encounter might alter its orbit a bit, making it more dangerous.