December 30, 2009

Russia Warns Of Possible Asteroid Collision

The head of the Russian space agency (Roscosmos) said Wednesday that the country is considering sending a spacecraft to a large asteroid to knock it off its path and prevent a possible collision with Earth, The Associated Press reported.

"The space agency will hold a meeting soon to assess a mission to Apophis," said Anatoly Perminov.

He told Golos Rossii radio that it would invite NASA, the European Space Agency, the Chinese space agency and others to join the project once it is finalized.

The 885-foot asteroid was first discovered in 2004, and astronomers originally estimated the chances of it smashing into Earth in its first flyby in 2029 were as high as 1-in-37, but they have since lowered their estimate.

Further studies showed the asteroid will likely come no closer than 18,300 miles above Earth's surface, but they indicated a small possibility of a hit on subsequent encounters.

However, NASA scientists said in October they had recalculated the asteroid's path and lowered the odds that Apophis could hit Earth in 2036 from a 1-in-45,000 as earlier thought to a 1-in-250,000.

A separate close encounter in 2068 was determined to involve only a 1-in-330,000 chance of impact.

But Perminov said that he heard from a scientist that Apophis is getting closer and may hit the planet.

"I don't remember exactly, but it seems to me it could hit the Earth by 2032. People's lives are at stake. We should pay several hundred million dollars and build a system that would allow to prevent a collision, rather than sit and wait for it to happen and kill hundreds of thousands of people," Perminov said.

Asteroid deflection strategies have grown in number over the years. Some Scientist proposed sending a probe to circle around a dangerous asteroid to gradually change its trajectory. Others suggested sending a spacecraft to collide with the asteroid and alter its momentum, or using nuclear weapons to hit it.

Perminov said any details of the project still need to be worked out, but he said the mission wouldn't require any nuclear missiles.

Perminov said some calculations show that it's possible to create a special purpose spacecraft within the time we have, which would help avoid the collision without destroying the asteroid and without detonating any nuclear charges.

"The threat of collision can be averted," he added.

Perminov's statement are a signal that officials had come to recognize the danger posed by asteroids, according to Boris Shustov, the director of the Institute of Astronomy under the Russian Academy of Sciences, who hailed Perminov's statements.

RIA Novosti news agency quoted Shustov as saying, "Apophis is just a symbolic example, there are many other dangerous objects we know little about."


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