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Around the year 2000, Hollywood started pumping out “end of the world” type movies with large asteroids plummeting on a collision course with earth. Some of these movies got people thinking. So what are the real odds of an asteroid hitting us?
The odds are actually better than one might think. This does not mean that one is on the way to wipe out the planet though. But with the vastness of space and the massive number of asteroids out there, a collision is possible. Solar system videos can give you an idea of how many asteroids and other bodies of mass are floating around our planet.
Many scientists advocate more money being spent on monitoring space for just such a scenario. If an asteroid were on its way toward us, the more advanced notice the better the odds are of changing the asteroid's trajectory in time to avoid an impact.
Unlike the movies, in real life using nuclear weapons would just send a bunch of smaller but now radioactive asteroids to the earth. So what would we do?
The two most popular ideas are not too expensive, though they would require at least a year or so notice before an impact. This is exactly why scientists want to fund programs right now for early warnings.
One scenario involves placing a rocket motor/engine on the asteroid and altering its trajectory. The other, oddly enough, is to paint the asteroid. This is not a codename. They really mean paint. The sun's light has a pressure to it. It is theorized that by taking an asteroid that is black and painting it white you would be altering that pressure and throwing the massive body off course.
Currently there are projects under way to test these theories, thought they are in the very early stages.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|