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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Weird Science Saturday: Paging Bruce Willis!

The astronomical community is abuzz about Apophis. No, not the Egyptian God of Chaos and Darkness, though that was a good guess. The Apophis I'm talking about is an asteroid a quarter-mile in diameter that was named after the Egyptian god. The asteroid 99942 Apophis is rated as the celestial object (currently) most likely to collide with the Earth.

On Friday the 13th, 2029, Apophis will pass closer to the Earth than some of our communications satellites. The odds are that it will then ricochet off into space, not to be seen again for a hundred thousand years. But some mathematical models say this near-miss will destabilize Apophis into another orbit that will send it slamming into the earth in 2036.

If Apophis hits, say the scientists: [it] would release more than 100,000 times the energy released in the nuclear blast over Hiroshima. Thousands of square kilometres would be directly affected by the blast but the whole of the Earth would see the effects of the dust released into the atmosphere.

The reason astronomers and other scientists are abuzz about this is that if we decide we want to nudge Apophis away so it doesn't slam into the Earth, it's not as simple as loading Bruce Willis aboard the space shuttle and sending him aloft to the beat of an Aerosmith soundtrack. It will take decades to develop astroid-nudging technology -- which means we should get started ... oh ... right about now.

When I heard about this, the first thing I thought was: "Oh, some scientists are bucking for more money for their pet projects." Maybe, maybe not. Can we send Bruce Willis rocketing into space anyway? I'm all for that. Anyway, I consider Global Warming to be more severe on the threat scale.


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