Are humans prepared for a mass extinction-level event, the kind that famously wiped out the dinosaurs more than 65 million years ago? If we are to believe an award-winning NASA scientist, the answer is a big no. According to Joseph Nuth, who is a senior scientist for Primitive Bodies at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the human race at this moment remains woefully unprepared for any such threat from outer space — especially the kind that has the potential to wipe out humanity from the face of the Earth.
Nuth expressed his concerns while speaking to attendees at the annual American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, the Week reports. During his speech, he urged policymakers to start preparing for any such event despite current calculations that the odds of such an event happening in the foreseeable future remain extremely rare. According to Joseph, even though there are no known threats right now, there is a possibility that a threat may appear without warning.
He also took an opportunity to remind policymakers about the fact that it’s been 65 million years since the last major extinction-level event, and the Earth is “due” for such an event in the future. This is because such mass extinction-level events usually strike “50 to 60 million years apart.” Speaking to fellow scientists, Nuth warned that humanity is currently not even close to being prepared for such a threat.
“The biggest problem, basically, is there’s not a hell of a lot we can do about it at the moment,” Nuth said.
Joseph, however, believes we would still have a chance if we start preparing for any such eventuality as early as possible. In his talk, Joseph went on to add that NASA needs to build at least two spacecraft to mitigate such a threat. These spacecraft include one interceptor rocket that would be able to carry a nuclear warhead that would be used to destroy any threat that has the Earth in sight. The other, an observer spacecraft, would scan for any threats that our existing monitoring systems may have missed.
Nuth maintains that there is a possibility that a wayward asteroid or comet could sneak in by evading our existing surveillance mechanisms. Citing a recent example, Joseph reminded us all about a “close encounter” that happened two years ago, in 2014, when we detected a hitherto unknown comet that passed too close to Mars. The comet was discovered just 22 months before it nearly collided with Mars.
Joseph, however, adds that NASA would need to drastically lower the current average of five years that is typically taken for them to approve, plan and finally launch a vehicle into space.
“It’s really imperative that we reduce that reaction time,” Nuth said.
That is, however, only the second hurdle. According to Space.com, NASA itself faces a major hurdle, as it would need to make a formal request to the US Congress so that they could approve such a mission. Also, it is not going to be very affordable.
“We’re talking a considerable amount of money. The NASA request would probably be for several hundred million dollars to produce one of these spacecraft.” Nuth said.
While expressing his opinions, he maintained that he wasn’t speaking on behalf of NASA.
“I’m not even in the administration of NASA. So this is more of a scientific recommendation,” Nuth reiterated.
While Joseph Nuth seems to be concerned about the possibility of a mass extinction-level ever occurring here on Earth, NASA’s official stance seems to be way more relaxed. In a statement issued to the Post, NASA reportedly stated that humans have nothing to worry about – for at least the next century.
“NASA places a high priority on finding and characterizing any hazardous asteroids and comets as much in advance as possible, to have sufficient time to protect our home planet from a potential impact. The agency continues to aggressively develop strategies and plans with partners in the US and abroad to enhance our identification and tracking efforts, and develop options for mitigation and planetary defense. To date, approximately 95 percent of potentially hazardous asteroids and comets larger than 1 kilometer in size that could pose danger to Earth have been found. Additionally, there are no detected impact threats for the next 100 years.”
It is largely agreed upon that it was a large asteroid impact that caused the last major extinction level event on earth more than 65 million years ago. This event, known as the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, wiped out more than three-quarters of the plant and animal species — most famously the dinosaurs. No animal weighing more than 55 pounds is said to have survived the impact and the subsequent climatic changes that engulfed the planet following the disaster.
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