News that a huge asteroid could hit the earth in 2032 got me thinking: will we be able to stop this kind of thing? Doing a little research, the answer is a resounding “No.” This massive rock (dubbed 2013 TV135) went past us last month, and not a hair on our heads was disturbed; however, it was at a distance of 4.2 million miles (6.7 million kilometers) away, so a bad hair day was nothing to worry about, at least not yet.
The asteroid was spotted by Ukranian astronomers only ten days ago, and the asteroid had passed us on September 16, so we had a close encounter and didn’t even know it. The return of 2013 TV135 will be perhaps closer, but experts estimate that there is a 1 in 63,000 chance of it hitting the earth. Don Yeomans, of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office, said that the current projection means about a “99.998% of no contact” with the asteroid in 2032. I guess we can breathe a sigh of relief, but I wouldn’t get too comfortable.
Let’s think about the implications of this story. The Ukranians noticed the asteroid “ten days” after it had already passed, which scares me more than anything. In other words, we had this gigantic piece of space rock hurtling towards us and passing through the neighborhood, and we didn’t even know it was out there. How many more really big ones (maybe like the one that hit in Siberia in 1908?) are out there that we do not know about yet? Maybe Mr. Yeomans and his group need to be a little more vigilant.
The salient point is that even if we knew that good old 2013 TV135 were heading directly for us, there is nothing we can do right now. Supposedly the United States and Russia have been in talks about nuclear options of stopping an asteroid. The Russians have a vested interest in this since earlier this year an asteroid exploded there injuring over a thousand people. No one saw that one coming either.
Charles Bolden, the chief of NASA, during a meeting with The House Science Committee, was asked if a big rock were coming directly towards us and would hit us in a few weeks what could we do? He told them to “Pray.” This is, of course, due to a fact that Bolden made clear to the representatives; when NASA asked for funds for this kind of thing they never materialized.
My feeling is this is a bigger and much more serious issue than NASA and Congress can handle. Okay, so the Russians have been talking about nukes with the U.S., but there is something frightening about that too. Right now we have no capability of delivering the nukes to get the giant rock before it enters our atmosphere, and by then it could cause complications with worldwide implications if we took it out with nukes, one terrible scenario being replaced by another.
All the countries of the world have a vested interest in this. If we all pulled together, kind of like in the movie Independence Day, then maybe we could defeat this alien rogue as well as in the film. A rock from space is just as dangerous, probably much more so, than any little green men and women from another galaxy. We can all pool our resources and create something substantial, perhaps a United Nations Space Defense Force, and construct some kind of space stations strategically positioned in orbit and equipped to take out asteroids. Yes, I know this will take time and great effort, but we should actually take this threat as seriously as we do hurricanes and earthquakes.
To scare you a bit more, Bolden noted that there are approximately “9,600 near earth objects” that NASA is currently tracking, many of them 60% larger than 300 kilometers. The one that exploded over Russia earlier this year was just 17 kilometers wide, so magnify that and imagine one of these huge rocks dropping in a major city or even in the middle of the Pacific, and the impact on earth would be catastrophic.
There is so much that divides us in the world, but one thing we can all agree on is preservation of our planet. The threat of an asteroid hitting us may seem remote, but tell that to the dinosaurs. Yes, a big rock like that is said to only hit once every 20,000 years, but the experts could be wrong. It is time to face the situation and use it to bring the people of the world together. While I deeply respect prayer, that is not going to stop a 400 kilometer asteroid from wiping out everything.
Of course, in our politically challenging times it would be hard to expect Congress to do much of anything. We saw that we recently went to the brink of financial ruin. If our people in Congress can barely agree on fiscal responsibility, how can we expect them to worry about what’s coming from space?
We need to rally key and influential members of the world community to begin an exploration of how we can fund a realistic (and relatively fast) defense of the planet from these asteroids; otherwise, annhilation from the devastating impact of a large space rock could be a real possibility. In that scenario we won’t be sent back to the Stone Age but into oblivion, and all the praying in the world won’t be able to stop it.
Photo credits: asteroid and Bolden-Getty Images; space map-NASA