Saturday 22 October 2016

World Asteroid Day: 'Figure out what a life is worth' - Astronomer warns asteroids could kill thousands

Other experts claim 'awareness' of danger is just 'scaremongering'

Published 30/06/2015 | 08:07


A "global movement to protect Earth from asteroids" is what Asteroid Day is all about - but are we really at any risk?

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Yes, according to US-based astronomer Scott Manley who maintains that potential contributors to the "cause" need to "figure out what a life is worth."

"The risk is enough for us to put something seriously together to really figure that out," he told RTE Radio 1 this morning.

"There's not much in the speed of the asteroids but you need to know when and where they hit."

A number of organisations - including the nonprofit B612 Foundation - has invested time and money into researching the likelihood of near-earth objects (NEOs) hitting the planet.

New technology is being developed to determine the path of these asteroids in order to potentially evacuate communities or send spacecraft to intercept deadly objects.

Although Ireland is not directly under an asteroid path, it is at risk from impacts in the Atlantic Ocean and North Sea which could trigger tsunamis, however small the likelihood may be.

Dr Hugh Lewis, Senior Lecturer in Aerospace Engineering, at the University of Southampton, added: “It’s very easy to be flippant because of the Hollywood effect but it is a real risk.

"Small asteroids are hitting the Earth all the time, and even if we don’t anything large, we are still likely to have tens of thousands of people dying in the next 85 years.

“New software not only allows us to see where an impact is likely to happen but we also simulate what might happen if we tried to deflect it, such as by using a spacecraft to give it a slow push in space.

The last large asteroid to hit Earth was the Tunguska impact of 1908 which felled 80 million trees over an area of 830 square miles, with the energy of 1,000 atom bombs.

The Chelyabinsk meteor which hit Russia in 2013 injured nearly 1,500 people.

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