News / Science & Technology

Scientists Debate, Prepare for Killer Asteroid

Scientists Debate, Prepare For Killer Asteroidi
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

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Survivor: Gunman Spared 'Lucky One' to Give Police Message

Law enforcement official says a manifesto of several pages was recovered; contents not revealed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs