News / Science & Technology

Scientists Debate, Prepare for Killer Asteroid

Scientists Debate, Prepare For Killer Asteroidi
X
November 19, 2013 7:52 PM
Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Volcanoes. Now, add asteroids to the list of natural disasters that can threaten humanity and all life on our planet. VOA’s Adam Phillips has more on giant space rocks and what might be done to prevent a fateful rendezvous with these orbiting nemeses.
Adam Phillips
Earthquakes,  Tsunamis,  Volcanoes.  Now, add asteroids to the list of natural disasters that can threaten humanity and all life on our planet. 
 
For decades, Hollywood films like Deep Impact and Armageddon have let  moviegoers enjoy the terror of fictional earthbound asteroids from the safety of their seats.
 
But on February 15th of this year, residents of Chelyabinsk in central Russia discovered that the threat is as real as it gets.  

That meteorite wounded more than 1,000 people - a pinprick compared to the one that probably wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, and far more benign than the meteor that exploded over Siberia in1908, leveling more than 2,000 square kilometers of forest.

Or the meteorite that hit present day Arizona, 50,000 years ago, and made a crater large enough to swallow up the entire city of San Francisco.

But those strikes were no flukes.

There are an estimated 10,000 known asteroids orbiting our region of the inner solar system.  That’s just one percent of the million or more asteroids scientists believe to be our near neighbors in the inner Solar System.

Recently, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson warned about....

" ...asteroids crashing to earth as meteorites or exploding in the atmosphere. That would be bad," he said.

He invited a group of concerned astronaut-scientists from the Association of Space Explorers, which included Thomas Jones.

“So one of these big explosions is capable of causing a global shutdown in agriculture and starving billions of people to death, as well as those who are killed by the actual explosion itself.  Now small asteroids might level a city, but we could still lose hundreds of thousands of people," said Jones.

Asteroids are chunks of dark mineral rich rock that reflect almost no sunlight, so they are hard to spot from Earth.  But infrared sensors on a space-based telescope could detect the heat they have absorbed from the sun.

That will be the job of the Sentinel Deep Space Telescope, bristling with infrared sensors, along with mapping and communications gear.  The Sentinel mission is the brainchild of former astronaut Edward Lu and his B612 Foundation, which is committed to reducing the asteroid threat.  Sentinel is scheduled to launch in 2018.

“Our telescope is sensitive enough that you actually can see a charcoal briquette against a black sky from ten times the distance from New York to Los Angeles," said Lu.

Once the asteroids are spotted and their orbits determined, an earthbound asteroid can be nudged slightly off course with a satellite deflector or a high velocity projectile, or blown up with nuclear weapons, causing it to miss its deadly rendezvous.

Much like Hollywood imagined it would in the 1957 science fiction film The Day the Sky Exploded.
 
But this time it’s the real world that would be saved.  

Video production by Daniela Schrier.

You May Like

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Arkansas, North Carolina have approved similar laws that gay-marriage opponents say help maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More