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How Many Asteroids Narrowly Avoid Hitting Earth on a Regular Basis?

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This map depicts asteroids that could potentially hit Earth.

It’s not a very comforting thought, but the fact of the matter is that we aren’t alone in the universe. No, I don’t mean aliens — think asteroids! These gigantic rocks fly by our planet on a regular basis, but exactly how close are they getting to wiping out all of humanity?

A new diagram has been released by Slooh [telescope] astronomers, showing every orbit of an asteroid that could potentially strike Earth. It’s not a good feeling when you see all of the trajectories and lines zooming around the planet.

“This is a startling image,” Eric Edelman, producer of the Slooh telescope live Internet channel, told Daily Express. “These are the potentially hazardous asteroids that surround us and we are keeping an eye on to make sure they do not hit us. This is a really amazing figure to see that many lines that we are keeping our eye on.”

It’s important to note that the lines represent known asteroids — these are not hypothetical asteroids that could run into our planet. One particular asteroid, Icarus, has been watched closely by NASA since 1949. It has the potential to hit Earth with at a speed of 70,000 miles per hour, which could eliminate an entire hemisphere. Over the past 19 years, it has inched 5 million miles closer to us.

But let’s back up a moment — what can any of us Earth dwellers really do about an asteroid heading toward the planet? Here are some ideas that people are already working on:

  • NASA has created a “kinetic interceptor,” which could deflect an asteroid by slamming into it.
  • Paint for the asteroid. The theory is that by painting part of it white, it will reflect more solar radiation, changing its trajectory.
  • A net. to be more specific, a 550-pound carbon fiber mesh net that could act like a solar sail and change the direction of an asteroid.
  • Mirrors. Mirrors could effectively reflect solar rays onto an asteroid, heating a portion of it. This would cause it to spew vapors, which could thrust it toward a new path (hopefully away from Earth).

These are just to name a few of the ideas that are circulating around the scientific community. There’s no telling if any of them will work when the time comes, but I’m certainly glad that someone out there is thinking of asteroids as a real threat. When I try to contemplate it, it’s hard not to think of the next apocalypse.


Sources

  • Austin, Jon. “PICTURED: Shocking number of asteroids that could HIT Earth that NASA knows about.” The Daily Express. June 18, 2015.
  • Lamb, Robert. “Top 10 Ways to Stop an Asteroid.” Discovery News. January 30, 2013.