‘Potentially Devastating’ Asteroid Approaching Earth for 2036

October 15, 2007 10:42 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Astronomers differ as to the chances of Asteroid Apophis hitting our planet; a Russian scientist argues that civilization can be confident of survival if it does.

30-Second Summary

When astronomers first identified Asteroid Apophis in 2004, they estimated that there would be a slim chance of collision as it passed within 20,000 km of Earth on April 13, 2029. Later calculations revised the date of the potential impact to 2036.

The risk posed to Earth is still thought small. However, if the asteroid passes through something called a “gravitational keyhole,” which may shift its orbit some hundred meters, that will increase the likelihood of a collision.

Such an impact would have enough force to raze an area the size of the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

Boris Shustov, of the Institute of Astronomy of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and Edward Lu, of the University of Hawaii, have studied the options open to mankind if a large asteroid should threaten the planet.

They agree that deflecting the object with an explosive, possibly a nuclear weapon, would be the best way to respond.

Other theorists have suggested a direct hit from a nuclear missile could dissolve the offending space rock.

Shustov and Lu hold that this would be an ill-advised course of action as the resultant debris could pepper the Earth with smaller meteorites. Cumulatively, these could cause as much damage as a single large asteroid.

Headline Links: Theories abound

Background: Expected asteroids

Key Players: Boris Shustov and the Planetary Society

History: Impact of comets on life and Earth development

Reference Material: Asteroid deflection strategies

Related Topics: The effects of Sunspots


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