- Feb 5, 2012
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- Communist State Of Kalifornia
A 460-Foot Space Rock Could Strike Earth in 2040
Fire up the Aerosmith and get Michael Bay on speed dial—scientists believe a fairly big asteroid has a relatively good shot of smacking into the Earth in 28 years. Astronomers discovered Asteroid 2011 AG5 last January and after observing the 460-foot wide rock for about nine months over the past year, now calculate it has a 1-in-625 chance of hitting our planet on Feb. 5, 2040.
If it does hit us, AG5 would by no means be among the largest of objects believed to have struck Earth in our planet's history. The meteor that many scientists believe killed the dinosaurs and pushed numerous other species to the brink of extinction roughly 65 million years ago may have been six miles across or larger.
That doesn't mean that AG5 wouldn't cause massive damage if it did strike, particularly if the impact site was close to a populated area. If the asteroid actually hit a city, millions would likely perish.
The Tunguska event, which in 1908 flattened as many as 80 million trees over 830 square miles in Siberia, is believed by some scientists to have been caused by an object no more than 30 to 60 feet across, which may have exploded some five miles above the planet's surface with the force of ten to 15 megatons of TNT.
The threat of AG5, though still hard to estimate precisely, is enough that scientists are already discussing possible ways to deflect it. It was a topic of discussion earlier this month at the 49th session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) in Vienna, Austria, according to Discovery.com.
AG5 has been rated as "high risk" and it "is the object which currently has the highest chance of impacting the Earth," according to Detlef Koschny of the European Space Agency's Solar System Missions Division in The Netherlands. Still, Koschny told Space.com this week that "we have only observed it for about half an orbit, thus the confidence in these calculations is still not very high."
Over the next few years, researchers will get a better idea of the risk AG5 poses, according to Donald Yeomans, head of the Near-Earth Object Observations Program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
"Fortunately, this object will be observable from the ground in the 2013-2016 interval," he told Space.com. Yeomans said if necessary, a deflection mission could be mounted prior to 2023, when AG5's trajectory could be affected by gravitational effects around the Earth and become less predictable. As the asteroid approaches what scientists call a "keyhole" in near-Earth space 11 years from now, it could change course and strike us even earlier than expected.
How would scientists stop AG5 if it is indeed on a collision course with Earth?
Theories of how to stop a dangerous near-Earth object (NEO) from striking the planet range from the Hollywood favorite of "nuking it" to trying to alter its orbit with strikes from a "kinetic interceptor," rigging it with solar sails, or even "painting" one side of the object so that solar radiation gives it a slight nudge to deflect it from hitting Earth.
A decision on whether such a mission will be necessary is not imminent, however. Yeomans said scientists will need to observe AG5 through at least 2013 before deciding that it's more than just a celestial object worth keeping an eye on (Damon Poeter for PC Magazine, 2012).