The threat of an asteroid impact on the Earth is real, and there are rocks flying through our solar system that could easily put a rather spectacular end to human civilization, however even with all that danger whizzing past us, NASA scientists have now provided us with a clear message: there is no real chance of an impact within the next century.
"We can say with a very good deal of certainty that no asteroid or comet large enough to threaten life as we know it will hit Earth in the next 100 years," says Dr. Donald Yeomans, the manager of the Near-Earth Object Program Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Along with a network of professional and amateur astronomers from around the globe, Yeomans has catalogued and tracked 8,800 objects in space that come within about one-third of our distance to the Sun (roughly 150 million kilometres). Nearly 1,000 of these objects are 1 km or more in diameter, which would pose a serious threat to life on the Earth.
An impact with even the smallest of these larger asteroids would be the equivalent of setting off a 50,000 megaton bomb (by comparison, apparently the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated was only 57 megatons). This event wouldn't have the same effect as the asteroid that wiped out most of the dinosaurs, but could obliterate a major city, destroying everything within 100 kilometres of the impact site, and kicking up enough ash and dust into the atmosphere to severely alter the Earth's climate.
Protecting the orbits of all their recorded objects out for the next 100 years, Yeomans and his team found that there were no potential impacts detected, giving us an all-clear for the foreseeable future.
Even if a new object was discovered and scientists determined that it would strike the Earth, Yeomans says that we would likely have at least 50 years warning, giving us plenty of time to put a plan into effect to divert it.
"We have conceptual plans on how this could be done," he says. "The reason the dinosaurs went extinct is because they didn’t have a space program."
(Image credit: University of California Observatories)
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