Large asteroid heading to Earth? Pray, says NASA

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida Wed Mar 20, 2013 6:31am IST

Related Topics

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - NASA chief Charles Bolden has advice on how to handle a large asteroid headed toward New York City: Pray.

That's about all the United States - or anyone for that matter - could do at this point about unknown asteroids and meteors that may be on a collision course with Earth, Bolden told lawmakers at a U.S. House of Representatives Science Committee hearing on Tuesday.

An asteroid estimated to be have been about 55 feet (17 meters) in diameter exploded on February 15 over Chelyabinsk, Russia, generating shock waves that shattered windows and damaged buildings. More than 1,500 people were injured.

Later that day, a larger, unrelated asteroid discovered last year passed about 17,200 miles (27,681 km) from Earth, closer than the network of television and weather satellites that ring the planet.

The events "serve as evidence that we live in an active solar system with potentially hazardous objects passing through our neighborhood with surprising frequency," said Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Texas Democrat.

"We were fortunate that the events of last month were simply an interesting coincidence rather than a catastrophe," said Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, who called the hearing to learn what is being done and how much money is needed to better protect the planet.

NASA has found and is tracking about 95 percent of the largest objects flying near Earth, those that are .62 miles (1 km) or larger in diameter.

"An asteroid of that size, a kilometer or bigger, could plausibly end civilization," White House science advisor John Holdren told legislators at the same hearing.

But only about 10 percent of an estimated 10,000 potential "city-killer" asteroids, those with a diameter of about 165 feet (50 meters) have been found, Holdren added.

On average, objects of that size are estimated to hit Earth about once every 1,000 years.

"From the information we have, we don't know of an asteroid that will threaten the population of the United States," Bolden said. "But if it's coming in three weeks, pray."

In addition to stepping up its monitoring efforts and building international partnerships, NASA is looking at developing technologies to divert an object that may be on a collision course with Earth.

"The odds of a near-Earth object strike causing massive casualties and destruction of infrastructure are very small, but the potential consequences of such an event are so large it makes sense to takes the risk seriously," Holdren said.

About 66 million years ago, an object 6 miles (10 km) in diameter is believed to have smashed into what is now the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, leading to the demise of the dinosaurs, as well as most plant and animal life on Earth.

The asteroid that exploded over Russia last month was the largest object to hit Earth's atmosphere since the 1908 Tunguska event when an asteroid or comet exploded over Siberia, leveling 80 million trees over more than 830 square miles (2,150 sq km). (Editing by Kevin Gray and Paul Simao)

FILED UNDER:
Photo

After wave of QE, onus shifts to leaders to boost economy

DAVOS, Switzerland - Central banks have done their best to rescue the world economy by printing money and politicians must now act fast to enact structural reforms and pro-investment policies to boost growth, central bankers said on Saturday.

OBAMA'S VISIT

Reuters Showcase

Obama Arrives

Obama Arrives

Bear hug with Modi gets Obama's India trip off to warm start.  Full Article | Pictures 

Japanese Hostages

Japanese Hostages

Japan condemns apparent IS execution, demands hostage release.  Full Article 

Ukraine Crisis

Ukraine Crisis

Pro-Russian rebels attack key port; Ukraine says at least 30 dead.  Full Article 

Australian Open

Australian Open

Nadal, Sharapova charge into quarters as top brass shine.  Full Article 

Row over Film

Row over Film

Group says 'American Sniper' film spurs threats against Muslims.  Full Article 

Movie Review

Movie Review

Dolly ki Doli is a breezy watch, writes Shilpa Jamkhandikar.  Full Article | Related Story 

Akshay Kumar's Latest

Akshay Kumar's Latest

"Baby" is a smartly written, well-acted film  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device  Full Coverage