Forget Asteroids, Planet Killing Space Rock Could Be A Comet

The huge planet-killing space rock that collides with Earth and ends life as we know it could wind up to be a comet instead of an asteroid because they’re bigger, faster, and appear with little warning.

At the annual American Geophysical Union, NASA researcher Joseph Nuth warned the world that humanity is unprepared to protect the planet from a killer comet, which is likely to come out of nowhere, according to Space.com.

“Comets have largely been ignored by people that are interested in defending the planet.”

The American-led international effort to track near-Earth asteroids has catalogued some 15,000 dangerous space rocks floating near our planet, but far less attention has been paid to potential killer comets.

Asteroids are usually found much closer to Earth, but comets tend to hang out in the outer solar system and only rarely come near our planet as they orbit the sun making them much harder to locate, Nuth told News Nation.

“The biggest problem, basically, is there’s not a h*ll of a lot we can do about it at the moment.”

[Image by MarcelC/Thinkstock]
[Image by MarcelC/Thinkstock]

Death from above

Comets large enough to be planet-killing space rocks are rare and the chances of one striking the planet are extremely low, but any impact has the potential to end life on Earth, Nuth told The Guardian.

“But on the other hand they are the extinction-level events, things like dinosaur killers, they’re 50 to 60 million years apart, essentially. You could say, of course, we’re due, but it’s a random course at that point.”

Any comet striking the Earth would be moving much faster than an asteroid. It would have a much greater relative velocity because of its elliptical orbit and would be more likely to strike the planet directly instead of giving it a glancing blow like an asteroid might.

In 1996, a comet that scientists spotted only months before, slammed into the planet Jupiter in a collision that armchair astronomers were able to witness from Earth with small telescopes.

Then, in 2014, another comet passed within a cosmic hair of Mars with only 22 months warning, not enough time to launch a deflection mission if the space rock was threatening Earth.

[Image by Kerrick/iStock]
[Image by Kerrick/iStock]

Planetary Protection

It takes about five years to build a spacecraft capable of altering the course of any incoming space rock, asteroid, or comet, which is why Nuth is urging NASA to keep a rocket on standby.

A fully completed intercept rocket and observer spacecraft could be kept in storage, with periodic testing, and be made launch ready quickly in case scientists discovered a dangerous space rock heading toward the planet.

The observer spacecraft could be launched immediately after the discovery of an incoming space rock while the interceptor was prepared for launch, giving scientists time for last minute calculations.

The intercept rocket would be capable of carrying a nuclear bomb, or a kinetic impactor that would be used as a last ditch effort to blow up the space rock before it struck the planet.

Scientists like Dr. Cathy Plesko, at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, are urging the government to invest now in technology that potentially save our planet in the future, according to The Guardian.

“We are very carefully doing our homework before finals week. We don’t want to be doing our calculations before something is coming. We need to have this work done.”

It should be noted that Nuth’s idea of storing an intercept rocket for an Earth rescue mission isn’t endorsed by NASA and the space agency would need permission and funds from the White House to build such a spacecraft.

Do you think we should be preparing a spacecraft for an Earth rescue mission?

[Featured Image by Stocktrek Images/Thinkstock]