Asteroid impacts produce an array of effects that can harm the human population, and there is no defense against them

asteroid-impact

It is no big secret that a giant asteroid collided with Earth sixty-six million years ago, making the dinosaurs extinct, which raises the question of whether governments can do anything to save the human population if one heads our way.

Scientists conclude a six-mile-wide chunk of rock that rained down from outer space created what is now known as the Chicxulub crater. The crater is located on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula and offers many answers to the dangers that asteroids pose to human life. The 93-mile wide crater is the second-largest asteroid impact zone on Earth and provides insight into how to better defend against such a tragic and uncontrollable event. However, asteroid defense is not so cut and dry. There are many looming problems when it comes to implementing a working and actionable deflection plan. 

According to a Penn Live report, a recent NASA simulation confirms that there is currently no technology available to thwart a massive asteroid from hitting Earth, which can be somewhat concerning. NASA wargaming data shows no way to deflect or obliviate an asteroid at this current point in time, even though the agency has been working diligently to attempt a deflection of looming space rocks. 

The agency recently conducted a week-long exercise in April to learn more about potential ways to deflect, divert or obliterate threats from space. Still, it failed to stop the hypothetical Asteroid from wiping out Europe. The simulation conducted at this year’s Planetary Defense Conference reiterates the dangers and threats near-Earth earthbound objects pose to humankind. During the exercise, participants had a fictional six-month window to develop a workable deflection plan to save the planet from being impacted by a massive flaming hot meteor but failed to do so. As a result, all of Europe had its clock cleaned. The deflection plan was a bust and led to a tragic loss of life in the simulation. 

The results of the exercise show earthlings just how vulnerable they are too existential threats from space. What participants found was that the only way to protect against an asteroid impact with current technology is to evacuate a large swath of the population around the anticipated impact zone ahead of time, which experts say would be a logistical nightmare, primarily upon short notice. Image trying to evacuate tens to hundreds of millions of people from one region to another. It’s just not that practical. 

SpaceX founder Elon Musk agrees that steering an asteroid off course is extremely difficult and that more advanced technologies and larger rockets need come about.

“One of many reasons why we need larger and more advanced rockets,” said Musk, about the latest asteroid busting exercise. 

Musk’s SpaceX is currently developing a much more powerful and more enormous next-generation Starship spacecraft far more potent than what is out there today. Musk claims the new generation of spacecraft will be “the world’s most powerful launch vehicle ever developed.” SpaceX recently obtained a $2.89 billion contract with NASA to take the program to the next level.

And while earthlings are currently sitting ducks that inhabit a giant ball of rock that is spinning and hurling through space, NASA still plans to attempt to change the orbit of an asteroid with its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART). If successful, the test will pave the way for future deflection campaigns if a massive asteroid threatens the planet. 

The DART mission will launch in late 2021 after being postponed several times. During the test, NASA plans to ram an asteroid with a kinetic impactor that should change its trajectory. It will offer some relief for future generations who worry about sizeable near-Earth objects like 99942 Apophis if the mission succeeds. 

According to NASA, Apophis is about 1,135 feet wide and will pass extremely close to Earth in 2029. And although reports claim Earth is safe from Apophis for the next 100 years, some naysayers warn it could still strike the planet. A NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory animation shows the anticipated path of Apophis during its 2019 approach. 

According to the Natural History Museum, “Around 75% of Earth’s animals, including dinosaurs, suddenly died out at the same point in time,” because an “asteroid hit at high velocity and effectively vaporised.”

“It made a huge crater, so in the immediate area there was total devastation,” reads the report. “A huge blast wave and heatwave went out and it threw vast amounts of material up into the atmosphere.”

Soot from the impact was sent around the world, which caused a dark winter-type scenario. 

“Like dominos, this trailed up the food chain, causing the ecosystem to collapse. The reduction in plant life had a huge impact on herbivores’ ability to survive, which in turn meant that carnivores would also have suffered from having less food available.”

A research letter published by Advancing Earth and Space Science titled Asteroid impact effects and their immediate hazards for human populations reveal that asteroid impacts produce many consequences that can harm the human population. None of which are good. 

“They are wind blast, overpressure shock, thermal radiation, cratering, seismic shaking, ejecta deposition, and tsunami,” write the report’s authors. These all can and will happen when a giant meteor impacts. Through it all, researchers found that the inhabitants of Earth are incredibly vulnerable. 

“Equally important, the results provide evidence that effects such as cratering, seismic shaking, and ejecta deposition provide only a minor contribution to overall loss,” concludes the report. “Tsunamis were the most significant effect for water impacts but were less important globally.”

“In summary, the results help to better understand the asteroid impact hazard, including which impact effects are most and least relevant, and can be of help in formulating an adequate response to the threat.”

“The small contribution of tsunamis to global loss was surprising but can be explained by initial wave height restriction due to the sea depth and wave height attenuation over distance whereas the other effects can scale freely with increasing impact energy and are naturally closer to populations.”

Just some food for thought.

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