$50,000 reward to tag an asteroid

A $50,000 reward was announced yesterday to whoever can help save the world from a devastating asteroid impact.

Nasa impression of asteroid strikeThe Planetary Society promised the prize for the best plan to fit a cosmic missile called Apophis with an “electronic tag” to make sure it stays out of trouble and does not threaten Earth.

The 400-yard wide space rock, weighing 25 million tons, will fly so close to us of Friday 13th of April, 2029, that it will pass closer than Sky’s TV satellites.

No one knows what effect that close pass will have on its orbit and experts are still unable to rule out a collision exactly seven years later.

If Apophis passes through a several hundred-yard wide “keyhole” in 2029, it will impact Earth in 2036. Striking the Earth at a speed of 28,000mph, it will explode with the force of 65,000 atom bombs and could wipe out a small country or cause a huge tsunami.

Blasting the asteroid with a nuclear missile, as in the movie Armageddon, is not seen as the answer because it could just produce a greater number of smaller rocks to threaten us.

Instead, the US-based Planetary Society’s Apophis competition seeks designs for a mission to rendezvous with the asteroid – one of thousands of so-called Near Earth Objects – and tag it.

Landing a marker will help track the space rock accurately and provide the data needed to decide whether to follow up with another mission to deflect its orbit.

Former Apollo astronaut and asteroid campaigner Rusty Schweickart said: “While the odds are very slim that this particular asteroid will hit Earth in 30 years, they are not zero. Apophis and other NEOs represent threats that need to be addressed.”

Bruce Betts, the Planetary Society’s Director of Projects said, “With this competition, we hope not only to generate creative thinking about tagging Apophis, but also to stimulate greater awareness of the broader near-Earth object threat.”

The Planetary Society is conducting the competition in cooperation with groups including Nasa and the European Space Agency.

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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