Asteroid 1950 DA is hurtling toward Earth, defying gravity, and could end human life.
But current Earth dwellers need not worry. Scientists say it wouldn’t hit the planet till March 16, 2,880, according to a recent study published in the scientific journal Nature.
The odds of the asteroid hitting Earth were first estimated at one in 300, but more recent observations have lowered the risk to one in 4,000. While those odds seem low, keep in mind that you have a one in 960,000 chance of being struck by lightning in a given year. So this asteroid rightfully has scientists’ attention.
Scientists are particularly interested in 1950 DA because its particles are held together by cohesive forces strong enough to “overwhelm gravity.” If scientists try to find a way to divert the asteroid’s possible collision with Earth, researchers will have to take those forces into account.
Calculations suggest it could spin no faster than about once every 2.2 hours if it were held together by gravity alone, but the asteroid goes faster than that, once every 2.1 hours. The researchers calculated that cohesive forces, exerting no more pressure than a coin resting in the palm of a hand, must be at work.
Current research shows that blasting the incredibly fast-moving asteroid into chunks could be more dangerous than trying to nudge the asteroid onto a new path in the solar system.
Ben Rozitis, a planetary scientist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and a co-author of the study, said that one appealing strategy to deflect the asteroid is a ‘gravity tractor,’ a spacecraft that would fly alongside the asteroid, using its gravitational pull to steer the rock onto a new trajectory. This would be safer than blowing it up because the direction in which fragments hurtle would be unpredictable.
Rozitis told The Independent that the asteroid, which is one kilometer in diameter, is moving at nine miles a second relative to Earth and would hit us with a force of about 44,800 megatons of TNT. The first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was equal to 20,000 tons of TNT, to give some perspective. So this asteroid would cause a massive explosion, create tsunamis, alter Earth’s climate, and destroy human life.
Luckily, we have 35 generations for scientists to figure out a way to avoid this kind of catastrophe.