Killer Asteroids? The White House Has A Plan

Posted: Jan 6 2017, 11:23am CST | by , in Latest Science News


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Killer Asteroids? The White House Has a Plan
Photo Credit: Getty Images

At the end of the year, the White House very quietly released its Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy. The document is 25 pages and outlines how the US would fight back against a giant asteroid that is on path to collide with earth. In it, they outline strategies for Near-Earth Object (NEO) detection, developing methods for deflecting asteroids, and developing interagency emergency procedures in the event of an NEO impact.

“If we were to be faced with a serious asteroid impact hazard, it's going to take more than just NASA to try to do something about it in space,” Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer, said to Motherboard in a phone call. “If there’s not enough time to do something about the asteroid in space, it's going to take efforts by a lot of agencies to prepare to take the hit. This is really the first time we've tried to pull together an all-government preparedness strategy for dealing with this very serious natural disaster.”

NEOs are comets or asteroids whose orbits around the Sun intersect with or come close to Earth's orbit. There have been several thousand discovered, ranging in sizes. Every day, earth gets hit with dozens of these, but they typically disintegrate before reaching surface.

If a large one hit, however, it could be catastrophic.

An asteroid is thought to have led to the extinction was about 10 kilometers (about 6.5 miles) in diameter. If one of that size hits again, it could vaporize anything within 100 miles of impact. There would be acid rain, fire-storms, and the sky would be black for months.

Of course, that risk is always there. For now the government is more concerned about the smaller ones that could still cause damage to large areas.

“On average we do get an impact once a century or so that does do very severe harm,” Johnson said, citing Chelyabinsk and the 1908 Tunguska impact. “It’s a very rare event with very high consequences, but this will happen someday. There’s no doubt about that.”

The report's authors gathered a year ago to form the Detecting and Mitigating the Impact of Earth-bound Near-Earth Objects (DAMIEN) working group to address issues with killer asteroids. They are behind the White House strategy and will continue to work moving forward.

“While it is highly unlikely that there will be a civilization-ending NEO impact over the next two centuries, the risk of smaller but still catastrophic NEO impacts is real,” the report’s authors write. “There is currently no whole-of government or international strategy to respond to such an even through all phases of a NEO impact scenario.”

The team will look at information about detecting a killer asteroid, eliminating it, or, in the worst-case scenario, looking at the fallout if one does strike.

“There's the time needed to get the mission ready to go and launch it, the time it takes to get to the asteroid, and then the time needed for your deflection mechanism to have effect,” said Johnson. “The amount of time needed to mount a robotic planetary mission is typically 5-6 years, so I’d say realistically, you’d need about 8-10 years advance warning to do something about an asteroid in space.”

“The next step is for there to be an action plan developed by DAMIEN as to what needs to be done to address this strategy,” said Johnson. “It will get down into specifics of which agency will be doing what to address this strategy. This is just one in a series of these types of documents that have been put together for overall preparedness.”

Unfortunately, with newly-elected Donald J. Trump set to take office on January 20, the fate of DAMIEN and the overall White House asteroid preparedness effort remains bleak.

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/46" rel="author">Noel Diem</a>
Noel passion is to write about geek culture.




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