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Surprising Science

How to Stop the Asteroid Apocalypse

Two new studies propose potential spacecraft missions that would collide with asteroids in an attempt to deflect them away from our planet. Such missions may be our best hope. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Chinese and European researchers have put forward two different proposals to deflect potential asteroids on a collision course with Earth. “One concept from researchers in China involves deflecting an asteroid with a spacecraft propelled by solar sails, giant mirrors that fly through space via the force of sunlight reflecting off them. A possible target is the asteroid known as Apophis, named after the Egyptian god of darkness because of fears that it might crash into Earth.” The European idea, called Don Quixote, still requires further research.  

What’s the Big Idea?

While scientists keep an eye out for asteroids that might collide with Earth, there are practically no solid plans for what to do should one appear on a collision course with the planet. The asteroid Apophis might be good target practice: “The researchers noted that giving Apophis a tiny shove at a key moment in 2029 would help ensure that it would not approach Earth in 2036, the year that it is forecasted to come near.” Still, there is only a 1-in-233,000 chance that an unaltered Apophis would impact Earth. 


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