Collisions in Space: The Threat of Asteroid Impacts


Abstract

  • An asteroid impact is an astronomical threat that could become reality. The Earth and other planets have been impacted by asteroids in the past, with several specific impacts providing key information to scientists. The Chelyabinsk airburst of February 2013 was observed by an unprecedented number of people, as I will discuss in my talk. While it is likely that millions of asteroids exist in the main asteroid belt, the thousands that orbit in the inner solar system are the greatest threat to impact the Earth. As I will describe, astronomers are searching for these asteroids, but the search is far from complete. If an asteroid is discovered to be on a course to impact the Earth, scientists have explored several possible techniques for preventing the impact, although none have been tested yet on the necessary scale. I will discuss the most plausible strategies.