Asteroids and how to cure them

Space experts in London yesterday revealed plans being drawn up to prevent an asteroid impact.
Leading scientists presented latest proposals for dealing with a space rock on collision course with Earth.
Astronomers have still not ruled out an impact with a Near Earth Object called 99942 Apophis in 2036.
That asteroid, which is about 300 yards across, will just miss us on a previous pass in 2029.
An Armageddon-style impact by an asteroid a few hundred yards wide could destroy a city and its surroundings or cause a devastating tsunami.
The London conference heard that the European Space Agency is designing spacecraft to tackle a rogue asteroid or comet.
Options include crashing a spacecraft onto the cosmic wanderer to knock it off course.
A similar effect could be caused by exploding a nuclear device near the asteroid.
A rocket could be attached to it to steer it on a new path. Or a giant mirror could focus the heat of the sun onto the asteroid to burn off a plume of gas and change its orbit.
Most outlandish suggestion at the meeting, sponsored by the European Space Agency, was to play ‘cosmic billiards’ by colliding a smaller space rock with a bigger, dangerous asteroid that threatened to hit the planet.
Professor Colin McInnes, of the University of Strathclyde, said colliding a spacecraft with an asteroid offered the best solution for an imminent threat.
He said the key issue was accurate cataloguing of the space rocks that come near us in the solar system.
In a surprise move, US astronauts Tom Jones and Rusty Schweickart linked live to the London conference from the States.
And Tom revealed that his spaceman chums don’t want to fly on an Amageddon movie-style mission like actor Bruce Willis.
Instead, he backed a “space tractor” – a spaceship that would pull up alongside an asteroid and tow it away simply by force of gravity.
Tom, speaking on behalf of more than 280 international astronauts in exclusive club the Association of Space Explorers, called on world leaders to face up to the challenge of asteroid impacts.
He called them “the most devastating of all natural disasters.”
Meteorite expert Professor Monica Grady of the Open University said major asteroid impacts on Earth happened every 50million years on average – and 65million years had passed since the last one which wiped out the dinosaurs.

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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