Science Channel - InSCIder

1 Jul

What Are The Odds Of A Massive Asteroid Hitting Earth?

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 10.04.35 AMCould a collision with a giant asteroid wipe out life on Earth?

On tonight's season finale of "Alien Encounters," that's the quandary facing Earthlings as a virtual reality simulator sees a huge object hurtling through space toward Earth.

NASA's Near Earth Object Program tracks the risk of objects from space colliding with Earth (it's been calculated that your odds of being killed by an asteroid impact are 1 in 700,000), but a 2013 article in Nature claims that the "risk of [a massive asteroid] hitting our planet may be ten times larger than previously thought."

Reporter Quirin Schiermeier writes:

"Of the millions of estimated near-Earth asteroids 10–20 metres in diameter, only about 500 have been catalogued. Models suggest that an object the size of the Chelyabinsk asteroid hits Earth once every 150 years on average, [planetary scientist Peter] Brown says. But the number of observed impacts exceeding 1 kiloton of TNT over the past 20 years alone hints at an actual impact risk that may be an order of magnitude larger than previously assumed, Brown and his co-workers show in their study."

One asteroid causing panic among starwatchers was Asteroid 2013 TV135, which buzzed Earth in 2013 and could return in 2032.

"Asteroid 2013 TV135 Could Hit Earth In 2032, Says Ukrainan Observatory," one headline trumpted.

Are we actually in danger?

Almost certainly not. NASA puts "the current probability of no impact in 2032 at about 99.998 percent"; in other words, there's less than a .0021 percent chance the asteroid will hit Earth.

So, are asteroids a threat to Earth?

Here, Dr. Michio Kaku explains his solution should an asteroid threaten our planet.

Be sure to watch "Alien Encounters" TONIGHT at 10/9c on Science Channel.

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