Is Earth really safe from killer asteroids?


Is Earth really safe from killer asteroids?

Scientists say there’s a one in 100 chance of a 140m asteroid hitting Earth every century, but don’t worry, Nasa’s on it

Adam Minter

In April, scientists discovered an asteroid that had a roughly one in 2,500 chance of colliding with Earth in six months. As the weeks passed and observations improved, they determined the space rock — perhaps 670m across — was on target for central Europe, potentially putting a million people in harm’s way. Scientists, space agencies and civil-defence organisations scrambled to find a life-saving solution, but soon determined it was too late.

“The exercise played out that we basically had to take the hit,” said Lindley Johnson, Nasa’s planetary-defence officer. Fortunately, that’s all it was: an exercise. But next time might not be. Scientists estimate there’s roughly a one in 100 chance of an asteroid larger than 140m across hitting the Earth every century. Depending on where such a rock landed, it could cause casualties exceeding any known natural disaster.

The good news is Nasa has a plan for such a scenario. Later this month, the US space agency will launch Dart (or the Double Asteroid Redirection Test), a mission that will test technologies designed to divert dangerous space objects. The bad news is that intercepting a killer asteroid could be a far harder, and more expensive, undertaking...

This article is reserved for Sunday Times Daily subscribers.
A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times Daily content.

Sunday Times Daily

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Questions or problems?
Email or call 0860 52 52 00.

Next Article

Previous Article