Anti-Asteroid Defenses Are Not Just for Hollywood Anymore

Source: Armageddon

When many of us think about a big asteroid flying toward earth and the U.S. inevitably being the one to solve the problem, we all probably picture Bruce Willis and a ragtag team of unqualified drillers-turned-astronauts flying off to drill into the asteroids and load it up with nukes, as was the case in Armageddon. The idea of humans doing something to stop asteroids from harming the earth might not be such a fictional idea after all, but the way it’s done might not be what people expect.

Space.com recently reported on the United Nations Scientific and Technical Subcommittee, which met in the second week of February to discuss strategies to address very real concerns over near-Earth objects (or, NEOs) like asteroids that are capable of damage on a grand scale. Last year, it was made clear to many just what kind of damage a chunk of rock was capable of when Chelyabinsk, Russia experienced the detonation of a 11,000-ton space rock in the atmosphere above the city, as approximated by NASA. The blast generated by the rock easily released more energy than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Structural damage was wide-spread, and about 1,200 people were injured.

Pondering the threat of these rocks is clearly not something relegated to the silver screen. The threat has actually been something the UN has considered for years, as the UN Action Team on Near Earth Objects — or Action Team 14 — has been in place to look into the problem since 2001, Space.com reports. After the February 10-11 meetings in Vienna, an action plan for NEOs may be that much closer to completion.

One of the main propositions of the sub-committee was the foundation of an International Asteroid Warning Network, Space.com reported. This would allow space-monitoring organizations around the world to ensure data on dangerous NEOs was shared so no one was caught of guard. At this point, a joint effort between nations could tackle the task of ensuring the NEO did not impact the Earth.

Once dangerous NEOs are identified, the Space Mission Planning Advisory Group (or, SMPAG) conceived by the group in Vienna can devise a plan of action to protect the Earth. The UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Space would then be able to coordinate a mission to pull off the SMPAG’s plan, Space.com suggests.

Now, with that bit of sci-fi coming into the realm of reality, people might start to speculate about how those teams would counter an incoming space rock. Unfortunately for Bruce Willis fans, the likelihood of using nuclear bombs to destroy an incoming asteroid isn’t all that likely. The more feasible plan would likely be the early identification of a potentially dangerous space rock and the subsequent sending of a satellite to coat a side of the rock in a reflective paint, thus allowing light waves bouncing off the rock to push it off course — even though that may sound more like fantasy than sci-fi or reality.

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