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Asteroid impacts pose such a huge threat to humanity that scientists are considering “backing-up” life on Earth in secure bunkers, according to an Australian robotics professor.
Dr. Jonathan Roberts, a robotics professor at Queensland University reviews the scientific literature about how the world could prepare for such a doomsday event. Roberts did not interview any other scientists, but surveyed the work of several fields.
“From all of this very worrying data, it would not be a stretch to say that we are currently within a doomsday scenario,” Roberts wrote in a Tuesday article published on The Conversation. “But the threats we face are so unpredictable that we need to have a backup plan. We need to plan for the time after our doomsday and think about how a post-apocalyptic Earth may recover and humanity will flourish again.”
Scientists are already storing seeds of potentially endangered plants, according to Roberts, and could even create a “back-up” vault to store animals and human genetic information. A bunker network could be reused to rapidly rebuild civilization and global biodiversity after a major asteroid impact.
Asteroid scientists say that the risk of a catastrophic asteroid impact that would kill a lot of humans is very high, but the risks to the global ecosystem are relatively low.
“Over the next century or so the likelihood of a catastrophe is high (an impact with significant consequences for loss of life and property) as the population density on the planet increases, but a world-ending situation is the same as always – one in 60 – 70 million years,” Dr. Joseph A. Nuth, a senior asteroid scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Note that even this does not sterilize the planet, it just wipes out most life forms and the ecosystem then starts again.”
The Conversation piece speculates that such bunkers could be located in remote regions of Earth to avoid events that would harm the temporal regions where the vast majority of the human populations live. It also speculated that a back up facility could even be located in space, which would avoid many of the risks of asteroids.
“In general the poles are less likely to be directly hit than the equatorial regions, but there is nowhere on the planet that is immune to impact,” Nuth said. “Add in the global effects from such a strike and everywhere is vulnerable.”
Nuth noted an asteroid or comet could surprise NASA if it approached Earth from an unusual angle.
“If the asteroid/comet is in a typical asteroid orbit or Jupiter family comet orbit, then we can certainly find these objects well in advance,” Nuth said. “The real problem comes from a ‘dark horse’ that drops into the inner solar system from an orbit in the outer solar system.”
NASA’s nightmare scenarios is detecting such an object on an impact course with Earth too late to make a difference. Nuth isn’t sure NASA could get a mission together in time to stop an asteroid or comet, as it could take five years just to build a spacecraft capable of the intercept.
Nuth and other NASA scientists applied observations from the Siding Spring comet to test NASA’s response time to an object on collision course with Earth. They determined humanity is woefully unprepared for a similar object approaching Earth.
“For some scenarios we could get many decades or more of warning (this is especially true for ‘normal’ asteroids that are covered by our current search strategies),” Nuth said. “For the Siding Spring analog – we could potentially have less than a year or so from detection to impact in the very worst case.”
NASA and its European partners focus on finding objects of at least 459 feet in diameter, which are large enough to devastate whole cities. This means they occasionally miss very small asteroids capable of doing a lot of damage. Such a small asteroid barely missed Earth in February, just hours after scientists first spotted it. The asteroid got within 32,200 miles of the Earth,or about 7.6 times closer than the moon.
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