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September 6, 2010

NASA to land on Asteroid in 2025

TECHNOLOGY - In what is being promoted as a practice measure for the event if a large asteroid ever comes hurtling on a collision course towards Earth, NASA has announced plans to land a team on an asteroid in 2025 to determine how it can safely be done.

The worry is that someday, eventually, an asteroid will strike the Earth and mankind won't be ready for it. If NASA has anything to say about it however, they will.

“You're just sticking your head in the sand if you think the world will live out its entire natural life until the end of our sun and never be hit by another big rock,” says Canada's star astronaut Chris Hadfield. “That's just foolishness. That's just ignorance.”

“We're rolling the dice that the big one is not coming right away,” warns Hadfield, who has seen smaller asteroids during his previous missions burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. 51-year-old Hadfield is heading back into space in 2012 to become the new commander of the International Space Station.

During a visit to the Russian space station Mir in 1995 Hadfield watched a large asteroid burn up in the atmosphere and admits the sight sent a shiver up his spine because it nearly hit the Mir space station. “If it had been a little higher, it would have come right through us (the space station),” says Hadfield.

According to a 2008 report by former U.S. astronaut Russell (Rusty) Schweickart the asteroid threat to Earth is very real and we need a program to detect and deflect asteroids which pose a real threat to life on Earth.

#1. The report suggests we buy new telescopes to dramatically increase the rate at which asteroids are discovered and charted.

#2. The report also notes that scientists have only charted 7,000 NEOs (Near Earth Objects) so far and yet there are millions more waiting to be charted.

#3. We also need to be charting our satellites in space, which has become so clustered that they're crashing into one another accidentally.

#4. We need to establish an international body responsible for deflecting asteroids when we spot ones which pose a threat.

#5. An early warning system is needed, so that we can predict which large asteroids will hit the Earth 10 to 18 years before the impact.

#6. A proven method of deflecting asteroids needs to be determined and tested.

In March 2011, the Canadian Space Agency is launching NEOSSat, a space telescope “totally dedicated to keep an eye out for the rest of the world.” It will pinpoint asteroids which have not yet been detected and will orbit the Earth at 700 km, the first stage of an early warning system.

Any asteroid larger than 50 meters has the potential to create a crater. The density of the object and what its composed of also makes a difference. For example an asteroid made of mostly iron would burn up easier, but an asteroid made of mostly platinum and similar heavier metals which have a higher melting point will be more difficult to burn up.

In 1908 a 45 meter wide asteroid exploded in Siberia before hitting the Earth. The explosion in mid air above is what is called the Tunguska Effect, because it flattered 2,000 square km of trees and started a forest fire. Thus even asteroids which burn up can still be deadly if the manage to get close enough to the Earth before exploding.

In Quebec the Manicouagan crater is 65 km wide and the result of a much larger asteroid that hit 200 million years ago, a time period when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth and the first mammals started appearing.

NASA believes the asteroid Apophis has a 2.7% chance of hitting the Earth in 2029 and might have a 2nd chance to hit the Earth in 2036.

So far NASA has determined 300 asteroids have the chance of hitting the Earth in the next 100 years. The biggest is “1999-RQ36”, an asteroid that is 500 meters wide which could hit the Earth in 2182.

See Also
Huge Asteroid Misses Earth

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