In 2015 a team of researchers from New York University conducted a study that focused on the main threats to life on Earth. Among other cataclysms that obliterated a diversity of species in the past, scientists focused primarily on threats from above. The study findings suggest that even though technology has known rapid development in recent years, humans are still incapable of protecting the planet from a potential comet strike of falling asteroids.
The study on mass extinction caused by comet strikes in the past has been published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. During an American Geophysical Union meeting that took place on Monday, December 12th, Joseph Nurth with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center pointed to humans’ inability to protect themselves or the planet in the event of a comet strike. He added that such an impact will not only wipe out humans, but also the Earth’s biodiversity.
Fortunately, Joseph Nurth says that there are some methods humans could use in order to protect themselves from a comet strike or an asteroid falling to Earth. However, he also said that scientists must act fast as deflection efforts may prove impossible if such methods are implemented too late.
One of the methods consists in the scientists working closely together with engineers to build two spacecraft. One module would be launched into orbit and act as an observer, identifying potential threats. If a celestial object comes across as threatening life on Earth, the scientists could use data gathered from “the observer” to analyze the object’s trajectory. Ultimately, this would determine what kind of threat does the object poses to our kind.
The other space module, dubbed the interceptor, would be launched to deflect the object if it does pose a threat to humanity. Also, the intercepting spacecraft should be designed to carry a nuclear bomb.
Ultimately, another deflecting method consists of engineers building a laser powerful enough to either destroy the comet or, at least, push it out of the orbit. Qicheng Zhang who runs computer simulations at the University of California located in Santa Barbara says that engineers already plan to build such a laser for the Breakthrough Starshot project. The project, however, aims to push nano spacecraft to nearly the speed of light. Nevertheless, Mr. Zhang is confident that with some adjustments, the laser would be capable of pushing an incoming comet out of the orbit.
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