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We have the technology to save the world from asteroid and comet impacts. What part of “extinction” don’t we understand?

The Asteroid Apophis
Dateline: MOSCOW – Russian Space Agency Chief Anatoly Perminov denies rumors that a planned mission to destroy the Earth-grazing asteroid Apophis was inspired by its uncanny resemblance to former U.S. President George W. Bush.

 

Start: I spend some time now and then on the forums for The Paracast, Gene Steinberg’s and David Biedny’s premier podcast/radio show on the paranormal. A couple of days ago, David Biedny posted a link to this article from Yahoo News: “Russia may send spacecraft to knock away asteroid.”

As David noted … thank God the Russians are here to save us.

(If that seemed a bit sarcastic to you, well … you’re right.)

The article notes that the near-Earth object (NEO) Apophis, an asteroid about 887 feet wide, has been concerning astronomers for nearly six years now, due to how close it would be passing the Earth in 2029. According to this news release from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a collision with the Earth has been ruled out for the 2029 encounter, and for the remainder of the 21st century.

(I guess the Russians don’t trust our mathematics. Or something.)

False Steps Toward a Real Threat

However, this doesn’t rule out objects we don’t know about creating havoc on our planet. We are constantly being surprised by near-misses, such as the one described in this Universe Today article in 2004, a 33 foot wide object that passed overhead only about 4000 miles up.

Objects this small naturally pose little risk, but the real hazard is that this object was detected only shortly before its closest approach. Likewise the article notes that other objects have been detected only after they pass.

As confused as the Russian Space Agency Chief seems to be, he is correct in that asteroids — as well as yet-to-be-discovered long-period comets — pose enormous risks to our species. The suggestion that asteroidal and cometary impacts have triggered planet-wide extinction events has long been seriously discussed by the scientific community, and, despite our species’ arrogance, we are hardly any better prepared than the dinosaurs to preserve our existence should this ugly possibility occur today.

More of a “Boom” Than a “Bang”

So how much of a “boom” do we have to worry about?

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