How to Prevent an Asteroid Impact

Russia is considering sending a spacecraft to a large asteroid to knock it off its path and prevent a possible collision with Earth. Just how would we prevent asteroids from colliding with Earth?

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    Terrestrial Strike

    Artist's concept of a catastrophic asteroid impact with the early Earth. An impact with a 500-km-diameter asteroid would effectively sterilize the planet. Russia is considering sending a spacecraft to a large asteroid set to fly near Earth in 2029, to knock the space rock off its path and prevent a possible collision with Earth, the head of the country's space agency said Wednesday.
    NASA/Don Davis
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    Apophis Photographed

    NASA scientists recalculated the path asteroid Apophis, seen here, in early October. The refined path indicates a significantly reduced likelihood of a hazardous encounter with Earth in 2036.
    UH/IA
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    Asteroid Eros

    The Apophis asteroid is approximately the size of two-and-a-half football fields. It's still too far away to see clearly, but up close would probably look like this this, a color image of Eros taken by NASA on February 12, 2000, at a range of 1100 miles. The image shows approximately the color that Eros would appear to the unaided human eye. Its subtle butterscotch hue is typical of a wide variety of minerals thought to be the major components of many asteroids.
    NASA/JPL/JHUAPL
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    Path of Asteroid Apophis

    Initially, Apophis was thought to have a 2.7 percent chance of impacting Earth in 2029. Additional observations of the asteroid in October ruled out any possibility of an impact in 2029. Nevertheless, Russia is considering sending a spacecraft to a large asteroid to knock it off its path and prevent a possible collision with Earth. The asteroid is expected to make a record-setting approach to Earth on Friday, April 13, 2029, when it comes no closer than 18,300 miles above Earth's surface.
    JPL/NASA
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    Impact event

    An artist's impression of a major impact event. The collision between Earth and an asteroid a few kilometres in diameter releases as much energy as the simultaneous detonation of several million nuclear bombs. So how could Earth's scientists prevent such an impact?
    Wikipedia/Fredrik
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    A Space Tractor?

    One way scientists have proposed to deal with an asteroid impact: a space tractor. Here, an artist's concept of such a tractor towing an Apophis-like asteroid away from a collision course with Earth.
    Dan Durda, FIAAA/B612 Foundation
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    Deep Impact

    Another theory on how to deal with potential near earth impacts: Send a satellite out to plant explosives, as graphically illustrated in movies like Deep Impact. Here, a NASA illustration of what such a mission might look like.
    NASA
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    A Solar Sail

    Another potential way to mitigate the potential risk of an asteroid impact: Attach a large enough solar sail directly to the cosmic rock, using the pressure of the sun to shift the object's orbit.
    NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center
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