Sunday, August 7, 2022

How dangerous are asteroids?

Our solar system is home to countless asteroids and other forms of planetary debris. As with so many asteroids in the Solar System, they inevitably collide with planets from time to time. Every planet in the Solar System experiences asteroid impacts, and Earth is no exception. Asteroids can pose a significant threat to life on Earth, with the size of the asteroid determining whether it can cause an extinction-level event. The last major asteroid impact on Earth occurred about 65 million years ago, when an asteroid about 6 to 9 miles (10 to 15 kilometers) wide struck Earth in what is now the Yucatan Peninsula. The resulting impact was virtually apocalyptic, eventually wiping out more than 75% of all life on Earth, including the dinosaurs. If such an event happens today, it will mean that our civilization and human life will come to an end. What is the probability that such an event could happen again?

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near earth asteroids

Asteroid Bennu classified as a near-Earth asteroid that could potentially threaten Earth in the distant future, NASA

Space agencies around the world actively track what are called near-Earth asteroids. These are asteroids that are located in the vicinity of Earth, and they pose a greater threat to our world than other asteroids. As of 2021, there are 26,115 known near-Earth asteroids, 2,000 of which are potentially hazardous to Earth. Of those 2,000, 158 are more than a kilometer wide, meaning they could potentially lead to an extinction-level event. Thankfully, none of these asteroids pose an immediate or significant threat to our planet. Of all the potentially dangerous near-Earth asteroids, none have more than a 1% chance of impacting our world.

How often do asteroids impact Earth?

Vesta
Asteroid Vesta is so far away that it poses no threat to life on Earth. NASA

Large asteroids, such as those that killed the dinosaurs, don’t often hit Earth. On average, Earth will experience the impact of a large asteroid every 100 million years. Since the last collision on Earth 65 million years ago, we have about 35 million years ago due to another impact. Even if a large asteroid is suddenly moving towards Earth, NASA has developed a plan to deflect such an asteroid. Unlike a lot of movies, we just can’t isolate one asteroid. Blowing up an asteroid would not significantly alter its trajectory, and Earth would still be hit by asteroid debris. Rather, humanity must deflect the asteroid and place it in a new orbit. Thankfully, NASA is already testing this method on asteroids. In November 2021, NASA launched the Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) on a mission to impact asteroids. DART is currently heading towards an asteroid that is orbited by a smaller asteroid. The goal of the Dart is to crash into the smaller asteroid and change its orbit around its larger companion. If the mission is successful, it will prove that we have the technological capability to deflect a potentially dangerous asteroid to Earth.

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Nation World News Desk
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