Asteroid will be close to hitting Earth in 2036

An asteroid may come uncomfortably close to Earth in 2036 and the United Nations should assume responsibility for a space mission to deflect it, a group of astronauts, engineers and scientists said.

The 20-million-tonne asteroid could be heading the way towards Kamchatkans and Venezuelans. Californians have even more reason to worry the asteroid is more likely to hit the Pacific Ocean, triggering a tsunami that could devastate the west coast of North America.

Calculations show it would strike somewhere along a narrow track that stretches eastward from Siberia to the west coast of Africa. Astronomers are monitoring the asteroid named Apophis, which has a 1 in 45,000 chance of striking Earth on April 13, 2036.

Although the odds of an impact by this particular asteroid are low, a recent congressional mandate for Nasa to upgrade its tracking of near-Earth asteroids is expected to uncover hundreds, if not thousands of threatening space rocks in the near future, former astronaut Rusty Schweickart said.

“It’s not just Apophis we’re looking at. Every country is at risk. We need a set of general principles to deal with this issue,” Schweickart, a member of the Apollo 9 crew that orbited the Earth in March 1969.

The Association of Space Explorers, a group of former astronauts and cosmonauts, intend continuing high-level workshops to work out the plan and make a formal proposal to the UN.

The favoured approach to dealing with a potentially deadly space rock is to dispatch a spacecraft that would use gravity to alter the asteroid’s course so it no longer threatens Earth, said astronaut Ed Lu, a veteran of the International Space Station.

The so-called Gravity Tractor could maintain a position near the threatening asteroid, exerting a gentle tug that, over time, would deflect the asteroid. An asteroid the size of Apophis, which is about 460 feet long, would take about 12 days of gravity-tugging.

by David Livingstone

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