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How to Survive A Collision With An Asteroid

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Survival Secrets to Surviving an Asteroid Collision.Everything You Need to Know About Asteroids and How to Survive an Asteroid Impact. Warning: Asteroids Can Cause Near-Extinction Events.

Also … Emergency Supplies to Survive Asteroids.

What is an asteroid? Imagine a potato 5km long and 2km wide hurling though space like a badly thrown football. Now imagine that spud crashing into your backyard and decimating the planet with the combined energy of millions of atomic bombs.

Such a collision would destroy most of life on Earth. Any surviving cockroaches would be mighty pleased, however.

Enter Asteroid PHA 4179

“The space spud is PHA (Potentially Hazardous Asteroid) 4179. French scientists discovered the asteroid in 1989 and named it Toutatis after the Gaulish god of Thunder and Destruction. Toutatis’ peculiar shape, wobbly rotation and wacky orbit make it unique among the near-Earth asteroids whizzing around our blue planet. Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., study these space rocks with radar. [. . .]”Orbit-altering experiences with planets Earth, Mars, Venus and Jupiter, as well as the Sun, make Toutatis consistently inconsistent, passing closer or farther to larger bodies as gravity wills. On its most recent visit, October 31, 2000, Toutatis passed within less than 29 lunar distances of earth (a lunar distance is the average distance from Earth to Moon: 384,400 km). When Toutatis is next in the neighborhood (galactically speaking), on Sept. 29, 2004, it will pass just 4 lunar distances from Earth. The asteroid will be the brightest it’s ever been and easy to see through binoculars.”

The concept of a large meteor like this one eventually breaking through our atmosphere and trashing the Earth is hardly just Hollywood fluff. It’s been surmised by several scientists that an asteroid just like Toutatis struck what is now Mexico about 65 million years ago and effectively ended the dinosaur age in one fell swoop.

Asteroids and Near Earth Orbits

Nor is this a mere tale of bygone days. On March 23, 1989, an asteroid with a kinetic energy of over 1000 one-megaton hydrogen bombs (i.e., about 5,000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima) was recorded to have passed very close to Earth. Named 1989FC, scientists only discovered the closeness of its pass to the Earth after the fact, during a calculation of the asteroid’s entire orbital path.Then in 1994, the new Spacewatch Camera in Arizona discovered four asteroids that sped by twice as close to us as our nearest neighbor, the Moon.

News of these activities brought what are called Near Earth Objects (NEOs) into the political arena.

What–if anything–are scientists and governments doing about this? Is it that much of a concern, or were those close passes simply freakish accidents, horrible things that–thankfully–almost never happen?

Asteroids Are Like Comets

Asteroids, like comets, are really just chunks of flying debris left over from the formation of the solar system about 4.5 billion years ago. Some are huge; for instance, the potato-shaped asteroid Eros is bigger than the whole District of Colombia.Before you freak out entirely, it must be noted here that the statistics on the chances of an NEO over one kilometer (3,000 feet) long–about the size of the one that probably killed off the dinosaurs–hitting the Earth soon are practically nil. A hit by such an asteroid is unlikely to hit Earth for hundreds of thousands of years. By then we’re probably sure to have something to at least alter the NEO’s course . . . if we’re still around, that is.

And because many asteroids heading for us end up bouncing off our atmosphere or principally burning up on entry, there aren’t many asteroids that can get through and maintain the size necessary to cause widespread damage.

The statistics on smaller hits are vague and subject to change, however. In the general press, too little coverage is given to the small asteroids which could conceivably cause terrible local destruction (e.g., to nearby coastal cities) but little worldwide impact, and which probably hit once every hundred years.

Also, our current best telescopes can hardly see the 100-meter asteroids because they’re so small; hence the vague statistics.

Still, “Near Earth Objects”–the term “near” is a pretty relative one, since it refers to space debris within a third of the distance to the sun–pose a threat to all nations.

 

“To try to destroy an asteroid or comet in space by a single explosive charge on or below its surface would risk breaking it uncontrollably into a number of large pieces which could still hit the Earth, doing even more damage.

“A more promising method would be to fly a spacecraft alongside the object, perhaps for months or years, nudging it in a controlled way from time to time with explosives or other means.

“This relatively gentle approach is particularly important because many asteroids and comets are held together only by their own very weak gravitational fields. The longer the time before impact, the more effective even a small nudge would be.”

 

Read More: How to Survive A Collision With An Asteroid

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