Here's the Exact Date an Asteroid Will End Human Civilization

Monday, 13 November 2017 - 10:08AM
Weird Science
Astronomy
Monday, 13 November 2017 - 10:08AM
Here's the Exact Date an Asteroid Will End Human Civilization
Image credit: Flickr Creative Commons
Extinction-level events are ubiquitous in pop culture, but the impending apocalypse is more than fiction—we know the exact date the world will end, a group of British scientists has recently announced.

Ever since the 1990s asteroid impacts have turned into a staple of sci-fi/pop culture (thanks, Armageddon and Deep Impact). But as great as it would be to re-enact Bruce Willis' slow-mo astronaut walk, the threat of a rogue asteroid isn't particularly funny—especially since a British observatory claims to have identified the asteroid that will destroy civilization by the end of the millennium.

About 16 years ago, Jay and Anne Tate took over the Powys Observatory, which they renamed the Spaceguard Centre, and set out on a mission to track NEOs, or near-earth objects. This means Spaceguard tracks all kinds of asteroids, including the big ones that can cause "global events" if they impact Earth. One such asteroid is predicted to close on Earth on March 16th, 2880. 

"That's when asteroid 1950DA either brushes our atmosphere—or strikes with sufficient spite to level life," Jay Tate says. "It will come very close...At two kilometers across, it's big enough for a global event, a bit small for a truly massive shock. It will finish off technological civilization."

Spaceguard Centre isn't just an eccentric hobby project or a doomsaying pulpit out in the middle of Shropshire—it's part of a network of stations across the globe that shares information about NEOs with space agencies. NASA has its own NEO-tracking database, but admits that there are still big holes in their list of "Asteroids That Could Potentially Kill Us All."

According to their Planetary Defense FAQ:

Opening quote
"Experts estimate that an impact of an object the size of the one that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013—approximately 55 feet (17 meters) in size—takes place once or twice a century. Impacts of larger objects are expected to be far less frequent (on the scale of centuries to millennia). However, given the current incompleteness of the NEO catalogue, an unpredicted impact—such as the Chelyabinsk event—could occur at any time."
Closing quote


So what kind of defenses do we have against asteroid impacts?

Turns out there are two main methods for deflecting doomsday rocks, and neither one involves a deep-sea oil drilling crew:

Opening quote
Deflecting an asteroid that is on an impact course with Earth requires changing the velocity of the object by less than an inch per second years in advance of the predicted impact.  The two most promising techniques that NASA is investigating are the kinetic impactor (hitting an asteroid with an object to slightly slow it down) and the gravity tractor (gravitationally tugging on an asteroid by station-keeping a large mass near it).
Closing quote


The kinetic impactor plan is already in the works, in the form of a vessel called DART.

Still, the futuristic humans of 2880 may need bigger firepower to stop 1950DA—that is, if strong AI hasn't already wiped us all out.
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The Exact Date an Asteroid Will End Human Civilization
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