An asteroid impacts the Earth

Doomsday Asteroids Imminent: Astronomer Suggests Detection/Deflection Defense

Another noted astronomer has added his name to the list of scientists calling on the planet’s governments to mount some type of defense system against potential doomsday asteroids before it is too late. And he says that “several hundred million euros” should be spent every year to keep the planet safe.

The Daily Mail reported this week that U.K. Astronomer Royal Lord Martin Rees, speaking at a press conference in Luxembourg, warned the world’s governments that Earth’s present asteroid defense system was totally inadequate against the imminent threat of an asteroid strike.

“I think we are all aware that we on planet Earth are vulnerable to impacts from outside; we know evidence these have happened in the past,” Lord Rees said.

“It may not be the greatest risk, or highest profile short term risk, confronting Earth, but if you make an assessment of what insurance premium it is worth paying in order to reduce impact, you would come up with a figure of several hundred million euros a year — which the world should be spending to reduce this risk.”

In fact, there are only two asteroid detection systems in place at the moment, according to NPR. NASA’s Scout and Sentry computer programs scan the skies daily via bought time on any number of telescopes around the world. Scout, which launched late last year, looks for Near-Earth Objects, quickly calculates the threat risk, and alerts the Minor Planet Center at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Sentry complements Scout in that it searches for asteroids large enough to take out a city.

Though these systems are in place, they cannot observe everything in the sky. And even if they did find an asteroid that could potentially wipe out a city or region or worse, there is no deflection system in place to mitigate the doomsday asteroid’s approach.

Lord Rees advised the world’s governments to invest in a better detection system and having it work in tandem with a deflection system. At least, then the potential for asteroid collisions would leave the Earth in a less vulnerable position.

He said, “We know that asteroids pose risks to Earth and recent advances in sensor technology have radically improved our ability to detect and deflect these Near-Earth objects.”

an asteroid making impact with Earth
At present, the Earth has no asteroid deflection system in place. [Image by puchan/Shutterstock]

Of course, Lord Rees is not the first expert to warn of the imminent threat of doomsday asteroids. In September, John Holdre, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, warned that an asteroid impact could “do a lot of damage to the Earth,” pointing out the surprising appearance and subsequent destruction wrought by the Tunguska Incident of 1908 in Russia and the more recent detonation of the Chelyabinsk meteor (also in Russia) in the sky in February 2013. There had been no warning for either of these events.

To drive the point further, there was a recent flurry of just-discovered asteroids that made passes relatively close to the Earth as well. Three asteroids were all discovered just days before hurtling past the Earth, but, fortunately, not one of them was headed directly for Earth.

Besides, as NASA’s Dr. Joseph Nuth told a gathering of scientists in San Francisco in December, even if Earth’s governments, space agencies, and private space companies were given ample notice, the state of readiness for any type of defensive deflection spacecraft stands at five years from conception to reality. As he noted, according to the Inquisitr, there was a 22-month window on the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet that impacted on Jupiter in 1994. That comet, estimated to be roughly 1.8 kilometers (1.2 miles) in diameter (prior to break-up), would have been a destroyer of some magnitude, no matter how much it might break apart on entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. In fact, the break-up might make things even worse as multiple fragments impact the Earth.

Regardless, due to the lack of any realistic preparations for mitigation, getting a deflection vehicle launched would take at least a year and many of the Near-Earth Objects are not giving a nearly defenseless Earth anywhere near that amount of time to stage a defense.

asteroid enters Earth's atmosphere
As NASA scientist Joseph Nuth has said, there is not a lot that can be done about deflecting an asteroid or comet heading directly for Earth. [Image by muratart/Shutterstock]

Warning that the Earth was due a “dinosaur-killer” at any moment, relatively speaking, he told the gathering that the “biggest problem” was that “there’s not a hell of a lot we can do about it at the moment.”

The conference Nuth was attending? Scientists were presenting plans for asteroid detection and deflection.

[Featured Image by muratart/Shutterstock]