Asteroids: A Dangerous Game Of “Cosmic Roulette”?

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Asteroid before the impact in waterFor a long time, astronomers saw the asteroids and comets that come close to Earth as useless debris, space rocks that blocked our view of distant galaxies. Not anymore.

They’re now viewed as scientifically important and potentially very dangerous if they were to collide with our planet. The odds of that happening on any given day are remote, but over millions of years scientists believe there have been lots of impacts, and few doubt there are more to come.

For a long time, astronomers saw the asteroids and comets that come close to Earth as useless debris, space rocks that blocked our view of distant galaxies. Not anymore.

They’re now viewed as scientifically important and potentially very dangerous if they were to collide with our planet. The odds of that happening on any given day are remote, but over millions of years scientists believe there have been lots of impacts, and few doubt there are more to come.

A former astronaut told us it’s like a game of “cosmic roulette,” and one mankind cannot afford to lose.

Concern over our ability to detect these objects that come near the Earth grew after an incident in Russia this February, when an asteroid crashed into the atmosphere with many times the energy of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, narrowly missing a city of one million.

This is video of that asteroid in Russia, barreling toward Earth at 40,000 miles an hour. It exploded into pieces 19 miles above and 25 miles south of the city of Chelyabinsk. People thought it had missed them entirely, until minutes later, when the shock wave arrived.

Shattering glass, crushing doors, and knocking some people right off their feet. More than a thousand were injured.

Anderson Cooper: How much warning did people in Chelyabinsk have?

Paul Chodas: None.

Paul Chodas is a scientist at NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. He and his boss Don Yeomans have been trying to track near-Earth objects for decades.

Paul Chodas: We didn’t see it coming. It was coming from the general direction of the sun, so it was in the daytime sky as it approached.

Anderson Cooper: So how did you find out about it?

Paul Chodas: Twitter and YouTube– when we first saw the images.

Anderson Cooper: So the first people at NASA that heard about it was Twitter?

Paul Chodas: Exactly.

 

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