The dinosaurs’ reign on Earth was brought to an end 66 million years ago when a 10 mile (16 kilometre) wide asteroid came crashing into the planet. Now experts have offered no reassurances over the planet’s safety if a larger asteroid were to collide with Earth. Members of the ESA’s planetary defence team have been answering questions on Reddit on how Earth is protected from asteroid.
The main purpose of the event was to promote ESA’s Human Exploration Research Analog (Hera) mission.
In 2024, Hera will head to the Didymos binary asteroid system – where two asteroids, one much larger than the other, orbit one another – to learn more about asteroid protection.
However, some asteroids are just too large to stop, and when asked if a space rock the size of Rhode Island, which is about 37 miles (60 kilometres) across, was heading to Earth, the team offered little reassurances.
Detlef Koschny, co-manager of the Planetary Defence Office, said: “That’s quite big – we would need a lot of rocket launches, this would be extremely difficult. I would pray.”
Thankfully, the ESA and NASA know for sure that no major asteroid is heading towards Earth and that we are safe.
Mr Koschny continued: “The good news is that we are quite convinced that we know all objects larger than just a few kilometers which come close to our planet.
“None of them is on a collision course, so we are safe.
“There was a scientific study done over a few years (published in Icarus 2018, search for Granvik) where they modelled how many objects there are out there.7
The asteroid hunters also reassured Earthlings that the likes of NASA and ESA are making great strides in their understanding of how to knock an asteroid off a potential collision course with Earth.
Mr Koschny said: “Since we only change the velocity of the asteroid slightly, we need to hit the object early enough so that the object has time to move away from it’s collision course.
“Finding out when it is possible to launch requires simulations done by our mission analysis team.
“They take the strength of the launcher into account, also the available fuel for course corrections, and other things. Normally each asteroid has its own best scenario.”