Russians Propose Plan to Save Earth
If it sounds like a bad movie script, it once was.
According to David Adam, writing for Guardian.co.uk, Anatoly Perminov, Russia's space agency chief, told a radio station Dec. 30 that Russia is considering mounting a space mission to divert the asteroid Apophis from a possible collision with the Earth. Perminov said NASA, the European Space Agency and organizations of other spacefaring nations would be invited to participate in the rescue mission.
"The Apophis asteroid is approximately the size of two-and-a-half football fields," NASA said in an Oct. 7 news release. Apophis first made headlines in 2004 when scientists announced there was a 1-in-37 chance that the massive rock would collide with Earth in 2029, according to Adam. Further research recalibrated the collision path and NASA now puts it a 1-in-250,000 chance that the asteroid could strike Earth in 2036.
"People's lives are at stake. 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," Perminov told the Russian radio station Golos Rossii, Adam said.
According to NASA, an Apophis collision with Earth "would release more than 100,000 times the energy released in the nuclear blast over Hiroshima. Thousands of square miles would be directly affected" and the lingering effects could affect the Earth atmosphere for years, Adam continued.
How to divert asteroids from hitting Earth has long been a subject of speculation by scientists and a fertile field for Hollywood scenarios. The films "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon" were both built on the premise of a dangerous mission to save the Earth from a looming asteroid collision.
In real life, scientists have debated the most effective way to throw an asteroid off course, including sending a spacecraft to nudge the asteroid to a different course. Sending a nuclear missile to blow up the asteroid has also been considered.
"Calculations show that it's possible to create a special-purpose spacecraft within the time we have, which would help avoid the collision. The threat of collision can be averted," Adam quoted Perminov as saying. "We will soon hold a closed meeting of our collegium, the science-technical council, to look at what can be done. There won't be any nuclear explosions. Everything will be done according to the laws of physics."