Why an Asteroid Strike Is Like a Pandemic

Sun, 25 Jul 2021 07:00:00 GMT
Scientific American - Science

Both are low-probability but catastrophic events—and both can be mitigated if we act early enough

This is the story of COVID pandemic-but it could equally well be the story of a catastrophic strike by a large asteroid.

Just as we can in principle develop vaccines against emerging viruses before they cause too much damage, creating immunity without making people sick, we can similarly use modern technology to develop a level of global immune response to asteroid collisions.

This requires ongoing investments in research and preparedness-and while the U.S. spent more than $6.5 billion dollars on pandemic preparedness over the past decade, the nation spent less than a tenth of that on the work of asteroid detection and deflection.

It will take years to build and launch, but as early as 2026 we may see the start of the first dedicated effort to understand the scope of the asteroid threat.

We also need to invest in deflection technology, the "Vaccine" of the asteroid response.

NASA is close to launching a mission called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test.

In 2022, the spacecraft will ram into the tiny "Moon" that orbits the near-Earth asteroid Didymos, slightly changing its orbit.

Scientists will compare the exact degree of change to their predictions, which will help them understand how to alter asteroid orbits more effectively in the future.

The Vera Rubin Observatory, for example, now under construction in Chile and especially good at finding fast-moving objects in the solar system, will greatly assist in asteroid detection.

Let this be one of them: low-probability, high-impact disasters do occur; and there is no higher impact disaster than a large asteroid collision with the Earth.

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