NASA scientist: Earth totally underprepared for comet, asteroid impact

NASA scientist: Earth totally underprepared for comet, asteroid impact
Chicken? (Image: NASA/Astronomical Society of South Australia, Justin Tilbrook)

[Ed. – Well, sure.  Making no preparations at all would, inherently, qualify as being underprepared — in the long run.  How long is the run?  Who knows?  Meanwhile, it’s interesting to me that the one scientist thinks kinetic impact would work so well.  That’s the anti-missile “star wars” proposition, which so many folks have pooh-poohed over the years.  Sure, a comet or asteroid is a lot bigger than a missile body.  But it’s also going nearly 90 mach — more than 10 times the fastest descent-phase speed for an approaching missile — and would have to be intercepted as far as possible from Earth to minimize collateral damage.  In the vast context of outer space, it’s still hitting a bullet with a bullet.]

Humans are woefully unprepared for a surprise asteroid or comet, a Nasa scientist warned on Monday, at a presentation with nuclear scientists into how humans might deflect cosmic dangers hurtling toward Earth.

“The biggest problem, basically, is there’s not a hell of a lot we can do about it at the moment,” said Dr Joseph Nuth, a researcher with Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center. …

Nuth said that the Earth had “a close encounter” in 1996, when an aberrant comet flew into Jupiter, and then again in 2014, when a comet passed “within cosmic spitting distance of Mars”. That second comet was only discovered 22 months before its brush with a planet: not nearly enough time to launch a deflection mission, had it been on a course for Earth.

“If you look at the schedule for high-reliability spacecraft and launching them, it takes five years to launch a spacecraft. We had 22 months of total warning.” …

Dr Cathy Plesko, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said there were two ways humans might deflect an asteroid: a nuclear warhead or a “kinetic impactor, which is basically a giant cannonball”.

“Cannonball technology is actually very good technology, intercepting an object at high speed actually ends up being more effective than high explosives”.

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