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MailTribune.com
  • Killer asteroids? It's nothing to worry about ... until 2029

  • If there's a "killer asteroid" out there with our name on it, it will arrive on Friday the 13th of April in 2029. The odds of it hitting us are only one in 30,000 and it will whiz by 20,000 miles above the Earth — in astronomical terms, very, very close.
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  • If there's a "killer asteroid" out there with our name on it, it will arrive on Friday the 13th of April in 2029. The odds of it hitting us are only one in 30,000 and it will whiz by 20,000 miles above the Earth — in astronomical terms, very, very close.
    Discovered three years ago and named Apophis, the 400-yard-wide Near Earth Object was called "very dangerous" by asteroid hunter Robert Jedicke in a talk Thursday at Southern Oregon University.
    If calculations are off and Apophis gets Earth in its crosshairs, he added, we can send rockets out to the killer rock (which is flying at 20,000 miles a second) and deflect it with nuclear explosions, beams of reflected sunlight or the gradual gravitational pull of a spaceship nearby.
    "Should you be worried? No, but be careful and pay your taxes to support our project," joked Jedicke, an astronomer with the University of Hawaii and director of Pan-STARRS (Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System).
    Jedicke served as a consultant on the movie "Deep Impact," which depicted with scientific accuracy the Earth being ravaged by asteroids, but he confessed "Armageddon," though lacking in science, was a lot more entertaining.
    Near Earth Objects that are bigger than one kilometer and flying around inside the orbit of Mars are being discovered at a rapid clip, with 5,432 now known, compared to 335 in 1995 — and given enough eons, it's inevitable one of them will target Earth, he said.
    However, doing the math — dividing the number of fatalities from asteroids (which is zero in recorded history) by the population of Earth, the odds of you or your children dying from a major asteroid impact in this century are about the same as the odds of dying in a plane crash.
    But one only has to look at the moon, heavily cratered by meteor impacts, to realize the same thing happened to the Earth — and only a century ago a meteor 10 to 30 yards across leveled 100 square miles of forest in Siberia but luckily killed no one. If it had hit three hours earlier it would have leveled London and killed millions, said Jedicke.
    "Meteors are our friends. They created Earth and everything on it," said Jedicke, by raining down water for our oceans, minerals for our soil and organic chemicals for the bodies of all living things.
    "Most importantly, they killed the dinosaurs 65 millions years ago, and if they hadn't, we wouldn't be here," he said, referring to the impact of a six-mile-wide meteor on the Yucatan Peninsula that put life back to square one by raising the Earth's surface temperature to 450 degrees for five hours.
    The reality of asteroids and meteors is that the small ones rain down on us every day, dumping thousands of tons of new material on the planet every year and accounting for much of the dust that gathers on our furniture.
    In the average lifetime, Jedicke cautioned, you're going to see a lot more damage and loss of life from hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes and volcanoes — and our technology gives us a bigger chance to deflect an Earth-targeted asteroid than any of those more familiar disasters.
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