Planetary defense: How can the Earth be protected from SCARY asteroid strikes? | Tech News

Planetary defense: How can the Earth be protected from SCARY asteroid strikes?

Asteroid strikes are a reality that has threatened the existence of humans since the very beginning. But technology allows us some ways to protect the Earth. Know our planetary defense strategy.

By: HT TECH
| Updated on: Mar 14 2023, 15:34 IST
Asteroid fun facts in pics: NASA reveals all you need to know
Asteroid
1/5 Space is full of objects, out of which only a few have been discovered. Asteroids are some of these objects. If you are not aware about the dangerous objects called asteroids, here are some facts you should know. First, did you know that asteroids are sometimes called minor planets? Well, they are. (Pixabay)
Asteroid
2/5 Differences between an Asteroid, Comet, Meteoroid, Meteor and Meteorite: According to the information provided by NASA, Asteroid is a relatively small, inactive, rocky body orbiting the Sun. Comet is a relatively small, at times active, object whose ice can vaporize in sunlight forming an atmosphere (coma) of dust and gas and, sometimes, a tail of dust and/or gas. Meteoroid is a small particle from a comet or asteroid orbiting the Sun. Meteor is the light phenomena which results when a meteoroid enters the Earth's atmosphere and vaporizes, in short, a shooting star. While, Meteorite is a meteoroid that survives its passage through the Earth's atmosphere and lands upon the Earth's surface. (NASA)
Asteroid
3/5 Asteroid: Size, frequency and impact- More than 100 tons of dust and sand sized particles are bombarded towards Earth everyday, according to NASA. While, about once a year, an automobile-sized asteroid hits Earth's atmosphere, creates an impressive fireball, and burns up before reaching the surface. Every 2,000 years or so, a meteoroid the size of a football field hits Earth and causes significant damage to the area. Only once every few million years, an object large enough to threaten Earth's civilization comes along. Impact craters on Earth, the moon and other planetary bodies are evidence of these occurrences. Space rocks smaller than about 25 meters (about 82 feet) will most likely burn up as they enter the Earth's atmosphere and cause little or no damage. By comparison, asteroids that populate the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and pose no threat to Earth, can be as big as 940 kilometers (about 583 miles) across. (NASA)
Asteroid
4/5 How is an Asteroid Orbit Calculated? An asteroid's orbit is computed by finding the elliptical path about the sun that best fits the available observations of the object. That is, the object's computed path about the sun is adjusted until the predictions of where the asteroid should have appeared in the sky at several observed times match the positions where the object was actually observed to be at those same times. (Pixabay)
Asteroid
5/5 What is NASA doing to find and learn more about potentially hazardous asteroids and comets? NASA has established a Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), managed in the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. The PDCO ensures the early detection of potentially hazardous objects (PHOs) - asteroids and comets whose orbits are predicted to bring them within 0.05 Astronomical Units of Earth (5 million miles or 8 million kilometers) and of a size large enough to reach Earth's surface - that is, greater than approximately 30 to 50 meters. NASA tracks and characterizes these objects and issues warnings about potential impacts, providing timely and accurate information. NASA also leads the coordination of U.S. Government planning for response to an actual impact threat. (AFP)
Asteroid
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Know how leading space agencies are trying to fight off asteroids before they strike the Earth. (Pixabay)

It is undeniable that the potential impact of an asteroid strike ranks among the most significant natural hazards we face. Similar to the event that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, a single asteroid collision has the capability to annihilate all life on Earth. NASA acknowledges this risk and therefore carried out its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) in 2022. But that is just one part of a huge network different space agencies are either working on or have built up to protect us from any incoming space rocks.

But before getting into planetary defense, we must understand the threat of asteroids. The Earth is surrounded by asteroids, the majority of which come from the asteroid belt situated between Mars and Jupiter. As per latest data, NASA tracks about 26000 near-Earth objects (NEOs) which can pose a threat to our planet.

However, not all asteroids can destroy life on this planet. NASA states that any asteroid larger than 1 kilometer in size can cause a global catastrophe for the Earth. This means, an asteroid this size can not only cause massive impact damage, but also change the climate severely to cause another ice age to kill the majority of life.

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Earth's planetary defense strategy against asteroids

In an effort to identify as many asteroids and comets as feasible, NASA has deployed large telescopes that can survey the skies on a nightly basis. NASA Center for Near Earth Objects Studies (CNEOS) under its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) handles data coming from all the telescopes by NASA. Similarly, European Space Agency (ESA), JAXA (Japanese space agency) and other institutions worldwide also have deployed either space telescopes or ground-based observatories to look for such asteroids.

But tracking is not enough. What happens when we see an asteroid heading for the Earth? The NASA DART mission answers that question to a certain extent. The test worked on the theory that a spacecraft can push an asteroid out of its orbit (and the Earth's path) to protect us from a collision.

China is also working on a similar solution. The country has planned an asteroid deflection mission in 2026 using the Long March 3B rocket, which will try and deflect an asteroid.

Fragmentation is another strategy which is considered by many astronomers. The method includes sending an impactor to asteroids which are loosely-packed and breaking them apart into smaller pieces that will burn up in the atmosphere.

Finally, nuclear detonation is a method that can be employed for very large asteroids, provided we know about it with enough time. The solution involves sending multiple nuclear warheads to the asteroid and planting them to its surface and then detonating them in a chain reaction to turn them into rubble.

However, researchers are figuring out more efficient ways to protect our planet and luckily, there are no planet-killer asteroids coming for the Earth in the near future.

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First Published Date: 14 Mar, 15:33 IST
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