NASA has outlined what it could do, and in what time span, in case an asteroid named Apophis is on a course to slam into Earth in the year 2036. The timetable was released by the B612 Foundation, a group that is pressing NASA and other government agencies to do more to head off threats from near-Earth objects.
The plan runs like this: Eight years from now, if there's still a chance of a collision in 2036, NASA would start drawing up plans to put a probe on the space rock or in orbit around it in 2019.
If those readings still could not rule out a strike in 2036, NASA would try to deflect the asteroid into a non-threatening course in the 2024-2028 time frame by firing an impactor at it — using this year's Deep Impact comet-blasting probe as a model. Experts would start planning for the "Son of Deep Impact" mission even before they knew whether or not it was needed.
Apophis, also known as 2004 MN4, stirred up a flurry of concern last December when the risk of collision was raised temporarily to as high as 1 out of 40 for the year 2029. With an estimated diameter of 400 meters, the asteroid could destroy a city if it hit the wrong place on land, or raise a deadly tsunami if it plunged into the ocean.
Fortunately, more precise plotting ruled out a collision in 2029. However, Apophis will still make an extremely close pass — missing Earth by mere tens of thousands of miles. At that distance, Earth's gravitational pull could perturb Apophis' orbit enough to put it on a track to hit during another pass in 2036. Experts say that could happen if, during the 2029 close encounter, the asteroid passes through an outer-space "keyhole" that measures about 600 meters across.
Asteroid-watchers may be able to rule out a collision entirely as early as next year, when Apophis is in a good position for further observations. However, the key observations will come in 2013.
One way or another, NASA would try to push the comet out of a path leading to the 2029 keyhole.
Of course, chances are that the Apophis affair will turn out like previous asteroid alarms have — with more detailed observations eventually ruling out the threat.
Finally, it is said that the responsibility for protecting Earth from hazardous asteroids and comets should be officially assigned to a capable U.S. government agency. That agency might turn out to be NASA or the Department of Defense, NBC reports.
Subscribe to Pravda.Ru Telegram channel, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, RSS!
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky decorated soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine on the line of contact in Bakhmut (the Russian name of the city is Artemovsk)