April 3, 2012 by David K. Sutton
Neil deGrasse Tyson: ‘We Can Survive Killer Asteroids’
First I would like to say that Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the best spokespersons this country has for science and science education. He is an astrophysicist and he is passionate about his chosen field of study and work. He is also a highly entertaining orator.
Tyson writes in a column for Wired about a need for an early warning system for asteroid threats and to develop a plan for how to avoid collisions with Earth. The real word solutions will likely deviate from what was depicted in the 1998 action movie ‘Armageddon‘. And besides, Bruce Willis is currently shooting Die Hard 13: Only The Good Die Hard, and Steve Buscemi is busy in his role as historical consultant to the Republican National Committee on issues such as gun rights and liquor laws.
More than a thousand known asteroids are classed as “potentially hazardous,” based on size and trajectory. Currently, it looks doable to develop an early-warning and defense system that could protect the human species from impactors larger than a kilometer wide. Smaller ones, which reflect much less light and are therefore much harder to detect at great distances, carry enough energy to incinerate entire nations, but they don’t put the human species at risk of extinction.
One killer asteroid we’ve been monitoring is Apophis, which is large enough to fill the Rose Bowl. On Friday the 13th, April 2029, it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. If its trajectory on that day passes within a narrow range of altitudes called the “keyhole,” then the influence of Earth’s gravity on its orbit will guarantee that seven years later, in 2036, on its next trip around the Sun, the asteroid will hit Earth directly, likely slamming into the Pacific Ocean. The tsunami it creates will devastate all the coastlines of the Pacific Rim. If Apophis misses the keyhole in 2029, we’ll have nothing to worry about in 2036.
So I wouldn’t make any firm commitments for the year 2036 just yet.