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What would you do? Answered

In 1908, a meteor the size of a truck obliterated 2000 square miles of Russian countryside. Over a populated area, that would have incinerated a city the size of modern New York.

The next major threatening event could occur in less than 20 years. Asteroid Apophis is due to pass close to the Earth and analyses suggest a one in 45,000 chance of a collision, and an impact one hundred times more destructive than the Tunguska event. Overall, major impacts occur on average every thousand years or so.

Although the chance is, on the face of it, quite small, that is just the risk of one particular, known Near Earth Object ("NEO") hitting us on the next pass. There are hundreds of other rocks out there, large enough to cause significant damage, and we don't know where all of them are.

UN scientists are calling for proper, internationally-concerted preparations to prevent such a collision.

Of course, any plans made so far are pure hypothesis, blue-sky thinking of the most literal kind. They range from gentle nudges with solar sails, to whole-scale nuclear obliteration.

So, Makers, what would you do?

How would you avert disaster?

How would you detect and track dangerous rocks?

How would you prevent them causing damage? Deflection? Destruction? Or would you exploit them somehow?

Post ideas, sketches, wild suggestions or sensible plans.

Association of Space Explorers
NASA's NEO pages
NASA Flash animation


For detecting dangerous rocks, you need to be able to survey the whole sky (northern and souther hemispheres) frequently, and be able to compare sequential images to identify objects with larger proper motions.

One telescope just can't do that, so I would try to organize an international group of professional and amateur astronomers to contribute some of their observing time and resources.

I might even try to get some good media coverage by giving it a catchy name, perhaps one borrowed from an Arthur C. Clarke novel.

Oh, wait, it's already been done....never mind.

I'd get SG-1 to land a Ha'tak to it then use the hyper drive to jump it just before it hit the earth, then drop out on the other side after it passed through the earth harmlessly.

Didn't they do that in one episode?

They got the ha'tak in one and saved the world (again) from the asteroid in another.

Isn't there some kind of solar concentrating idea using satellites to do something, like frying ants with a magnifying glass? Or we could use the Dr. evil plan with sharks with friken laser beams attached to their heads.

i would set up some form of tracking system that will set off an alarm clock ("hello honey!" in a males voice to really wake me up with fright). Then I would go into my mile-down bunker with a few years worth of corned beef and bacardi breezer. My TV will show when it is safe to come out, and bob's your mother's brother!

How do you avert disaster from an asteroid impact? That depends on how much time you have. If you have several years (decades?) of warning, then you can consider flying some sort of space mission to take action.

"Destroying" an asteroid would be worse than doing nothing at all. Breaking it into fragments doesn't change the location or orbit of their center of mass (I'm neglecting tidal dispersion here, since drock/Rorbit is neglibly small). Therefore all those fragments are still going to come screaming through the atmosphere, and splatter a much bigger region than the original single rock would have.

Complete vaporization is impossible with existing or forseeable technologoy. Calculating both the energy and power requirements is left as an exercise for any reader with a calculator and access to Google.

Deflection is the only practical option, provided sufficient time exists to do it. First, you need enough time to build and launch a mission, and have the mission arrive at the asteroid before it arrives here. Assuming that is possible, then there are several methods, with current technology, that could do the job.

Something as simple as landing a space shuttle (nose first) and firing the main engine in short bursts could do the job. Since asteroids spin (tumble, really), you need to fire the engine at the same rotation phase each time, so the thrusts add up instead of cancelling.

A nuclear device detonated near, or below the surface of a solid (chondritic) asteroid would expel material asymmetrically, providing a single impulsive thrust. Such a device could not be used with a "rubble heap" asteroid, since it would simply disperse the constituents without changing their orbit substantially.

Kiteman mentioned unproven but plausible technologies, like solar sails.

Therefore all those fragments are still going to come screaming through the atmosphere, and splatter a much bigger region than the original single rock would have.

Doesn't that depend on how small the resulting fragments are? I mean, if it could be broken up into "meteoroid-sized" chunks, wouldn't we be inundated with ash instead of a heavy impact?

Yeah, but you can't control the fragment size. Especially with a "rubble heap", you're just going to disperse pre-existing mountain-sized boulders, not break them up further.

I think there's a Bruce Willis film about the second-last paragraph. As I recall, it was terrible.

Bump it witha nuke...

See paragraph six of my 3:02 pm posting.


9 years ago

Speaking of which, I saw what I thought was a geosynchronous satellite in the sky north by northwest at around 9pm. Brightest thing I've seen in the sky for a while and seemed stationary. But then it was gone 10 minutes later. Any ideas what it might have been? Not nearly fast enough for a meteor, unless it was coming straight at me of course.

You've provided insufficient data. Where are you located? What time zone does "9 pm" refer to? How high up in the sky was the object/light/whatever? With that information, it should be possible to use Google or one of its search results to find out.

Apologies, I was asking Kiteman as he's (infamously) UK-bound. So 9pm GMT. I'd hazard a guess at 15-20deg above the horizon. I tried a search but didn't find anything useful. It was just a pondering if anyone could hazard a guess at what it might be. It was awfully bright.