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BU astronomers plot to save the world from asteroids

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  October 18, 2013 08:55 AM

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You know it will happen eventually: An Armageddon-sized asteroid will zero in on Earth, threatening to wipe humanity from the planet. Thankfully, though, a team of astronomers at BU is already plotting countermeasures. In a well-illustrated article published yesterday in BU Today, astronomer Jeffrey Hughes runs through a couple asteroid-prevention strategies (none of which actually involve missiles or dynamite because, contra Bruce Willis, blowing up an asteroid would just turn it into birdshot, with all the pieces still hurtling toward Earth). A better approach, Hughes explains in two animated YouTube videos (below), would be to try to nudge a killer asteroid off its collision course, either by heating it with a laser or radio waves (which would cause jets of propulsive gas to release from the asteroid), or with a rocket that bumps (but doesn't break) the asteroid into a friendlier orbit.

Sounds great, right? But then Hughes drops the other shoe. "The downside to all of these," he narrates in one of the videos, "is how are they technically possible and how likely are they to succeed if you do it." So, we're not there quite yet. But the best news of all from the BU article is that dangerous asteroids are rare. Asteroids big enough to trigger an extinction event only come along once every ten million years or so; smaller, "city-killer" asteroids, threaten Earth about every 1,000 years, but even those are much more likely to land in the wilderness than the middle of Cambridge Common.

Using lasers or radio waves to save the world from asteroids

Using rockets to save the world from asteroids

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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