December 30, 2009

Asteroid might hit Earth in 2029

TECHNOLOGY - Russia's space agency today issued a call for a massive planetary effort to ward off a giant asteroid named Apophis that might hit the Earth in 2029.

"People's lives are at stake," says Anatoly Perminov, the head of Russia's space agency. "We should pay several hundred million dollars and build a system that would allow us to prevent a collision, rather than sit and wait for it to happen and kill hundreds of thousands of people."

Russia is now considering building spacecraft and missiles designed to push the Apophis asteroid away from the Earth, and is asking NASA, the European Space Agency and the Chinese space agency to join in the effort.

The Apophis asteroid was first spotted in 2004. Scientists at the time estimated there was a 2.7% chance it might hit the Earth.

Politicians, typically unwilling to pay for anything that might prevent future destruction, have downgraded the threat and are now saying the chances of the asteroid hitting earth are less than 1% (the number varies depending which politician you ask).

The current scientific estimate is that the asteroid Apophis will pass within 30,000 km (making it visible to the naked eye and closer to Earth than the moon is). The danger is if it passes through a "gravitational keyhole" and get pulled towards us by Earth's gravitational pull.

If it missed there is also a 1-in-250,000 chance (according to NASA) it will strike the Earth when it passes by us again in 2036.

The cost of a mission to knock the asteroid off its course is estimated at $$80 billion USD, a cost to be shared by rival space agencies over a period of several years. NASA's current annual budget is a mere $17 billion.

In 1908 a 30 meter wide asteroid exploded over Tunguska, Russia and incinerated 2,000 square km of forest and killed everything in sight. Apophis is 270 meters wide and would incinerate approx. 18,000 square km if it exploded. If it actually strikes the Earth the impact could destroy significantly more.

The worry is it could crash or explode in a highly populated region, but chances are much more likely it would land in the ocean and cause a tsunami.

See Also:
Huge Asteroid Misses Earth

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