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Snapshots From Space: Defending our Planet From Asteroids

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Emily Lakdawalla reviews the threat posed by meteors, from relatively small impactors to massive planet killers. She also explores three critical steps to take in defending Earth, and how we may someday deflect an asteroid that is headed our way.

Comments:

Leonidas: 05/28/2012 11:09 CDT

"...in fact you shouldn't be afraid at all." Thank you very much Emily for pointing that simple, all-important truth that this fear-ladden 'I see threats everywhere' society should always keep in mind! Human psychology and culture seems to be captivated and thrilled with doomsday scenarios played all over much of its history. Yes, asteroid impacts are a potential threat, but not THAT much of a threat! The whole thing has gone so much out of proportion in popular culture, that has become the new 'trend' and hysteria on doomsday scenarios (the 2012 thing is just a different take on the asteroid impact). In the past it was the nuclear war, then the climate, global warming and global freezing, then the ozone hole and ultraviolet solar radiation, then it was overpopulation, then diseases and pandemics. Can anyone remember the headlines a couple of decades back informing us of the current 'way to die'? Now its the asteroids. I don't want to downplay the potential dangers of any of this. I'm just critisizing society's hysteria and paranoia in reaction to all of that. It seems that human psychology gets thrilled with apocalyptic scenarios, to the point that it is perpetually making end-of-the-world stories since the dawn of history! Every religion and creation myth is based around apocalyptic events! Is humanity's wish to die? I can't explain it. Asteroids are a part of the solar system since its birth. Life managed to survive for all these billions of years, inspite of the existence of 'the hostile universe's big, ugly space rocks that just want to kill us'. It's not that all these asteroids have suddenly materialised. We've just started to take notice that they're there. Yes mass extinction have occured but were few and far in between by many millions of years. So while we are preparing our asteroid defenses, lets also chill out and enjoy life!

Mark: 06/15/2012 09:52 CDT

Since this subject of potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs) is a multi-variable problem, I would think that the most dangerous asteroids would be those with intermediate sizes (200 to 500 meters). The impact frequency for these sized objects would be greater than that for larger (>1 km size) asteroids that have a very long interval between impacts, yet they could still do "regional" damage, killing millions of inhabitants. Increased detection and mitigation techniques should be emphasized towards the intermediate-sized objects. It should also be pointed out that sharing mitigation technology with other nations of the planet may not be the best choice. Certain nations may utilize sophisticated mitigation technologies to divert non-hazardous asteroids on trajectories that could impact particular locations on the planet causing severe damage on other nations - making the event look like a natural disaster.

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