A NASA scientist is warning that Earth is due for an “extinction-level” event like a comet or asteroid strike — and claims there won’t be anything we can do to stop it.
Joseph Nuth, an award-winning scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told attendees during Monday’s annual American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco that policymakers should start preparing for such a possible cataclysmic strike, despite the extremely long odds of it happening.
“But on the other hand, they are the extinction-level events, things like dinosaur killers, they’re 50 to 60 million years apart, essentially,” Nuth said. “You could say, of course, we’re due, but it’s a random course at that point.”
Making matters even worse is Nuth’s claim that humanity isn’t close to being prepared for such a threat, The Guardian reported.
“The biggest problem, basically, is there’s not a hell of a lot we can do about it at the moment,” Nuth said.
Nuth is calling on NASA to build two spacecraft: an “interceptor” rocket and an observer spacecraft. If a comet or asteroid poses a strong enough threat to Earth, the rocket — which would be capable of carrying a nuclear bomb — could “mitigate the possibility of a sneaky asteroid coming in from a place that’s hard to observe, like from the sun,” he said.
But NASA would need to drastically reduce the typical five-year span between mission approval and launch to make any such last-minute deflection attempt a possibility.
“It’s really imperative that we reduce that reaction time,” Nuth said.
Space.com reports that NASA would need to make a formal request to Congress to approve such a mission.
“We’re talking a considerable amount of money,” Nuth said. “The NASA request would probably be for several hundred million dollars to produce one of these spacecraft.”
Nuth stressed that he wasn’t speaking on behalf on NASA, saying he’s not a policymaker at the space agency.
“I’m not even in the administration of NASA,” he said. “So this is more of a scientific recommendation.”
Nuth said Earth had a “close encounter” just two years ago, when a comet passed “within cosmic spitting distance” of Mars. The cosmic snowball of frozen gases was discovered just 22 months before its near-collision with the Red Planet.
“If you look at the schedule for high-reliability spacecraft and launching them, it takes five years to launch a spacecraft,” Nuth said. “We had 22 months of total warning.”
But NASA officials, in a statement to The Post, said not to worry for at least the next century.
“NASA places a high priority on finding and characterizing any hazardous asteroids and comets as much in advance as possible, to have sufficient time to protect our home planet from a potential impact,” the statement reads. “The agency continues to aggressively develop strategies and plans with partners in the US and abroad to enhance our identification and tracking efforts, and develop options for mitigation and planetary defense.”
The statement continued: “To date, approximately 95 percent of potentially hazardous asteroids and comets larger than 1 kilometer in size that could pose danger to Earth have been found. Additionally, there are no detected impact threats for the next 100 years.”
Nuth is a senior scientist for primitive bodies at Goddard Space Flight Center, according to his NASA bio. He has won several awards and commendations throughout his 38-year career, including an achievement award in astrobiology from NASA.
This story first appeared in The New York Post.