- Hello, hello happy 4th of July welcome to Rogue Rocket.
My name is Philip DeFranco and today we're
gonna be talking about Armageddon, and specifically
how does one of history's greatest travesties
that this instant classic, this Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck
classic only has a 38% on Rotten Tomatoes?
And the question is how?
Look at this Oscar worthy performance.
You can't do this to me!
It's my job.
- You'll take care of my little girl now.
That's your job.
Always thought of you as a son, always.
- A tear on my face every time.
But no the real subject of today's show is how we would deal
with an actual Armageddon scenario if a giant asteroid found
itself on a collision course with Earth,
because while the chance of a major impact anywhere
in the near major is extremely small,
you might be surprised to learn that NASA scientists
are very much preparing for this possibility.
In fact, earlier this year the global science community
held an international conference to try and figure out how
to react to a worse case scenario.
So to deep dive into asteroid Armageddon we had
Cody Snow from the Rogue Rocket team jump into it.
- [Cody] It's December 30, 2021.
According to the worlds best scientists in less than
six years, an asteroid the size of 16 school buses
will collide with Earth directly hitting Denver, Colorado.
While that may sound like the plot of the next Michael Bay
blockbuster, it's the scenario scientists had to deal
with earlier this year at the sixth bi-annual
Planetary Defense Conference.
Over the course of five days, the conference brings together
experts from around the world to discuss how to stop
a fictional asteroid from wiping out
a major population center.
While the exercise may seem silly to some, the fact remains
that a giant asteroid will inevitably hit our planet.
It's a point that scientists and conference speaker
Bill Nye repeatedly hit on.
- Can anybody guess the probability of another impact
akin to the one that formed the Chesapeake Bay?
It's 100% people.
The Earth is going to get hit with another asteroid.
- [Cody] Of course the issue is when.
In any one person's lifetime there is a minuscule chance
of a catastrophic impact.
That's because even though thousands of pieces of small
debris hurdle towards Earth every day nearly all of it burns
up once it reaches Earth's mesosphere.
In this middle area of the atmosphere,
the air density combined with the speed of the traveling
object causes friction and debris up to 33 feet
in diameter disintegrates.
But every so often, larger objects will come into contact
with Earth's atmosphere and won't break a part until
the last second or at all, and you end up with this.
- [Man] What the fuck was that?
- [Man] (yelling in foreign language)
- That was Chelyabinsk meteor which exploded
over southern Russia in 2013.
It was the largest known natural object to enter
Earth's atmosphere since 1908, but was still
just 66 feet in diameter,
less than the length of an olympic swimming pool.
Showing that even a small object can have
a tremendous impact on our planet.
In fact, the energy it released was equivalent to nearly
30 Hiroshima atomic bombs, and the explosion ended up
injuring 1,500 people and damaging 7,500 buildings.
It's for this reason that many in the space community
believe we need to take asteroid threats seriously,
as it only takes one to cause immense damage
and loss of life.
One of those people is Lindley Johnson, NASA's first
and only Planetary Defense Officer who oversees the agency's
asteroid detection program.
He told us that while other natural disasters like fires,
floods, and volcanic eruptions are far more common,
we still have so much to discover about the thousands
of objects near Earth's orbit.
- Of the over 2,000 near Earth asteroids that we now have
in our catalog, none of them so far have a significant
potential for impact hitting Earth.
So that shows not a common occurrence, but the thing is
that is a small fraction of the number of objects
that are out there.
- [Cody] Of course you can't stop an asteroid
unless you detect it first, which can often
be a major challenge.
In fact, the Chelyabinsk meteor entered Earth's atmosphere
undetected because it's visible location in the sky
called the radiant was obscured by the sun,
but most objects can be detected by viewing their movement
against the background of more distant stars.
And the good news is that over the last 20 years thanks
to advance telescopes, observatories around the world
have made tremendous efforts in detecting near Earth
objects, or NEOs.
These NEOs are any objects that pass within 30 million
miles of our planet's orbit, or roughly the same distance
as Mars is to Earth at it's closest orbit.
While there is no official process to discovering
these objects, most new discoveries are reported
to the Minor Planet Center or MPC.
The MPC catalogs all the known objects in our solar system
that are smaller than a planet.
Once an observatory reports the discovery of the object
to the MPC the Center then calculates the object's orbit
so that it can be determined whether,
or not it could hit us.
But even with this comprehensive cataloging system,
it's estimated that we've only found one-third
of the potentially devastating NEOs out there.
It's why Congress actually mandated in 2005 that NASA
find 90% of all NEOs 460 feet and larger by the end of 2020.
It's a goal that NASA will definitely not meet at its
current rate of discovery.
Partially because funding for planetary defense programs,
and missions currently only sits at about
$150 million dollars a year.
- I think it is definitely worth the funding involved
to have a robust detection program
that we can find these things as early as we can
so that if we do have the time to do something about them,
if we need to because otherwise
if we find them too late all the money in the world
isn't going to prevent the impact.
- [Cody] Of course, even if we detect every single NEO
that could wipe out humanity, it won't be too useful
unless we can divert or destroy them.
Thanks to Hollywood the first image that probably
comes to mind when trying to prevent Armageddon
is nuclear weapons.
But as Johnson points out, if this option was chosen,
it would be very different from how
it's portrayed in the movies.
- We would not employ it in the way that they do in the
movies, you know and plant it on the asteroid and blow it
up, because all that mass is continuing to come
at the Earth; you're turning a rifle bullet
into a buckshot basically.
- [Cody] Instead Johnson says that the nuclear device
would be detonated several hundred meters above
the surface of the asteroid.
- That causes the surface material to super heat,
expand and blow off the surface, and so you have a large
amount of mass that is blowing off from the surface
of the asteroid and that causes of course a reaction
in the other direction of the asteroid so it gives
it a shove so to speak to change it's orbital momentum.
- [Cody] Johnson also says that using nuclear device would
only be used as last desperate effort if we had very little
warning time, which is unlikely given how far out
we're detecting most of these objects.
So instead of focusing on the nuclear option,
in recent years space agencies have embraced a different
route focused on space crafts called kinetic impacters.
In January 2005, NASA launched a mission called Deep Impact.
A kinetic impacter traveled millions of miles in space
over six months to reach a small comet about 3.7 miles
in diameter called Temple One.
While that may seem small, it's about half the size
of the object that scientists think killed off
all the dinosaurs.
On July 4th of that year part of the impacter
successfully collided with the comet's nucleus making it
the first human object to touch a comet.
The collision not only gave NASA valuable information
about the interior of a comet, but also showed that
it was actually possible to hit an NEO.
- We showed that we could encounter an object tens
of millions of miles in space.
Launch an impacter at it, and hit a relatively small body
although Temple One was several kilometers across,
but hit an object that size at tens of kilometers
relative motion in tens of kilometers a second
at 80 million miles away from the Earth.
- [Cody] In 2015, NASA and the European Space Agency
announced a double mission called the Asteroid Impact
and Deflection Assessment, or AIDA.
AIDA is set to launch in 2021.
If successful, it would be the first time a human object
comes into contact with a binary asteroid, which just means
an asteroid made up of two parts, with smaller of the two
parts orbiting the larger one at close range,
much like a moon and a planet.
This type of asteroid is significant because these moon-like
asteroids orbit their parent asteroid
at a relatively low speed.
Compared to a lone object which orbits the sun
at a much faster rate.
Making them the ideal testing ground for orbit diversion.
The goal is to send two different space crafts towards
a binary asteroid called 65803 Didymos.
The smaller of the two Didymos asteroids is about 524 feet
across, eight times larger than the Chelyabinsk meteor.
The first part of the mission overseen by NASA is called
DART short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test.
The goal is to deliberately crash a space craft into
the smaller Didymos asteroid by 2022.
It's believed that this collision will change the speed
of the moon's orbit around the larger body
by a fraction of 1%.
Even though that's just a tiny change, scientists believe
it should be enough to observe the shift in its orbit
using telescopes from Earth.
As to why the AIDA mission is so important,
legendary rock guitarist for Queen, Brian May,
who also happens to be an astrophysicists says this
in an informational video put out by the
European Space Agency:
- Why do we want to rendezvous with an asteroid?
Well we need to know what would happen
if one of these asteroids hits the Earth.
And this experiment is actually to try and see what happens
if you hit an asteroid with an object.
Does it deflect it?
It may very well do, that's the theory,
but every theory needs testing.
- [Cody] The second part of the mission overseen by the ESA
will launch a second space craft called Hera to perform
a close up survey of Didymos.
Hera is supposed to arrive by 2026, and will observe
the mass of the deflected asteroid and the size
of the crater left by DART's impact.
This is crucial information that needs to be known
if scientists ever use this collision technique to divert
an Earth bound asteroid from its path.
Of course, in many cases we will have years or even decades
of advance warning that a catastrophic object
is heading towards Earth.
And with enough warning time scientists and engineers
could employ a far less dramatic technique called
a gravity tractor.
The concept is still very much theoretical,
but essentially the idea is that if you sent a large enough
space craft to fly alongside the object,
the gravitational tug of the craft could change
its orbit and pull it out of Earth's path.
- You change the course of the asteroid over time
and so you tug on it awhile.
You observe and see where the new orbit
that you have the asteroid in.
If you haven't removed it enough from Earth's vicinity,
then you just tug a little while longer until you have more
precise control over what is the new orbit that you drop
the asteroid in.
As opposed to a kinetic impacter you hit it,
what you hit is what you get.
- [Cody] On the downside it would be an extremely complex
mission and only work for smaller asteroids.
As the craft would have fly within 50 meters of the object
for years or even decades to be effective.
So given all these options how did scientists and engineers
at the Planetary Defense Conference deice to respond
to the Denver bound asteroid?
Well a fleet of six kinetic impacters were built
by Space Agencies around the world and sent towards
Three of the impacters were successful in hitting
their target, but a fragment of the asteroid up to 260 feet
in diameter broke away and remained on
a collision course with Earth.
And the object eventually hit New York City killing
1.3 million people.
So it's a good thing it was all a simulation.
Johnson says that while developing effective mitigation
strategies is an important part of the event,
the bigger goal is learning how to work together
as an international community.
- Each of these conferences the more and more folks get
involved with the community and so this helps us develop
a common dialog, a common language and understanding
not only just here in the Untied States,
but internationally as well.
- [Cody] And it's this common understanding that will
be just as important as overcoming any technical challenge
if humanity is to avert disaster when this
inevitable day comes.
- So now that you've heard more about some of the steps
that NASA and other space agencies are taking to prepare
for an asteroid impact, I want to pass
a question off to you.
Do you believe that various countries could overcome
their differences to stop a massive threat like this?
Do you think that we should be investing more in programs
that detect potentially dangerous asteroids?
Or is that money better spent elsewhere given how minuscule
the chances of being hit any time soon are.
I'd love to know your thoughts in those
comments down below.
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