Ever since the the Russian news agency, Ria Novosti, reported that Russian space scientists are very concerned over the prospects of asteroid Apophis striking Earth, much talk has erupted in some European scientific circles over the likelihood of such a disaster happening any time in the foreseeable future.
While the Russians insist the odds are high that the 1,000-foot rock will slam into the Earth—perhaps taking out a whole city of millions when it hits—the U.S. space agency NASA argues their figures show only a one in 250,000 chance of such a calamity occurring.
Yet the lead astronomer in the Russian group that plans a major July 2011 conference concerning the asteroid threat to Earth, Professor Leonid Sokolov of the St. Petersburg State University, is only stating something that NASA already knows.
Sooner or later one of those tumbling space rocks is going to hit Earth. When it does only its mass and speed will determine how much damage it will ultimately cause.
The Russians want a unified asteroid deflection program that’s well funded and equipped. They believe that someday it may mean the difference between the survival of the human race or its extinction.
The dinosaurs—the most successful species ever to walk the Earth—had 200 million years to build an asteroid deflection program. They failed to evolve quickly enough and the universe wiped them out.
The human race has only been around about one percent of the time the dinosaurs had, but humans have evolved much faster. Hopefully, that evolution includes enough intelligence to accomplish what the dinosaurs were unable to do: protect the species from the dangers that roam Earth’s backyard.
As the months progress towards the asteroid summit chaired by the Russians, other astrophysicists and astronomers are adding their thoughts.
Daniele Farigon a physicist at the Farigon of the University of Rome, proposes using nuclear powered mass-driver rockets to steer the space rock anywhere desperate Earth folk wanted it to go. She doesn’t say exactly where the asteroid or comet should be ferried to…perhaps into the sun? It couldn’t do any harm there.
Other visionaries have other visions. Some want to attach giant solar sails or change asteroid and comet orbits using gentle nudges. Everyone agrees that trying to blow it up with an atom bomb would be a very bad idea, Bruce Willis and Armageddon notwithstanding.
Anatoly Perminov, the head of the Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos, confirmed that he will be at the meeting of Russian space officials and members of the European Commission set for early July in Moscow.
At the conference, the European Commission will consider Roscosmos’s proposal to create a joint agency specifically tasked to establish a workable asteroid deflection program.
“I received a letter,” Perminov said, “in which the European Commission proposes to meet on July 7 in Roscosmos with scientists and engineers of the Federal Space Agency, the Russian Academy of Sciences and other institutions and organizations. At the meeting, the Russian bid to start a joint project with the EU will be considered.”
When asked if the idea really smacked of science fiction, Perminov responded, “People’s lives are at stake. We should pay several hundred million dollars and build a system that would allow us to prevent a collision, rather than sit and wait for it to happen and kill hundreds of thousands of people.”