Nasa has revealed its Armageddon-style contingency plans to deflect a giant asteroid that threatens to hit the Earth.
The quarter-mile-wide rock named Apophis could slam into our planet in 2036, causing massive devastation and a crater the size of a city.
It is the first time the space agency has announced concrete details for a mission to deal with such a threat.
The space agency will monitor the asteroid over the next few years. In 2013, if a collision still cannot be ruled out, they will build an unmanned space probe to land on it or go into orbit in 2019.
If results from that probe still show the Earth to be at risk, Nasa will send another robot craft to fire a missile at Apophis – just as they did at a comet in the Deep Impact mission in July.
The plan was spelled out by Nasa official Mary Cleave following concerns expressed by a group called The B612 Foundation who say more should be done about the threat from asteroids.
The campaigners are led by former Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart. He said yesterday: “It’s certainly a tight schedule. But Nasa are the experts.”
Apophis – also known as 2004 MN4 – first sparked a scare last December when it was revealed there was a one-in-40 chance it would hit the Earth in 2029.
It is now known it will miss in that year. But it will pass so close to the Earth – just a few tens of thousands of miles – that it is feared its orbit could change putting it on track to hit us in 2036.
Nasa’s mision to deflect the asteroid would be launched before the 2029 approach.
★ Keep up with space news and observing tips. Click here to sign up for alerts to our latest reports. No spam ever - we promise!