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White House: Earth is vulnerable to a major asteroid strike

This artist's rendering made available by NASA in July 2016 shows the mapping of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. The spacecraft will spend a year surveying Bennu before collecting a sample that will be returned to Earth for analysis. (NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona via AP)

More preparation is needed to protect Earth from a devastating asteroid collision, according to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“Could we be hit by an Armageddon-sized asteroid, and the answer is ‘absolutely,’” said Dr. Laurence Garvie with the Center for Meteorite Studies at Arizona State University. “And here’s the interesting thing, or maybe scary thing I don’t know which, we will be hit by an Armageddon-sized asteroid at some point in the future.”

Although we don’t know when, we now have the ability as human beings to be able to direct our future, he said.

“We’re not like the dinosaurs anymore,” he said. “We don’t just have to sit back and watch that Armageddon-sized asteroid destroy us.”

We, with enough forethought, can map this thing in space to see where it is and actually alter its orbit so that it does not hit us, Garvie said.

This NASA graphic shows the orbits of all the known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs), numbering over 1,400 as of early 2013. Shown here is a close-up of the orbits overlaid on the orbits of Earth and other inner planets. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This NASA graphic shows the orbits of all the known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs), numbering over 1,400 as of early 2013. Shown here is a close-up of the orbits overlaid on the orbits of Earth and other inner planets. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA has already been working on one of a few projects being looked at called ARM, or Asteroid Redirect Mission. This is a robotic mission that can launch out to a potential asteroid, and use an enhanced gravity tractor to shift its orbit, potentially out of Earth’s path.

“Let’s say we discover a new asteroid that has a very good chance of hitting the earth 20 years from now,” Garvie said. “We have the technology now to actually alter its orbit just ever so slightly now, so that it does not hit the earth 20 years from now.”

So far 15,000 objects have been discovered that intersect with the orbit of the earth or come near to the orbit of Earth, he said.

“Of which well over a thousand are kilometer-size or larger so they would really cause a regional size event,” he said.

The good news is, with so much space, the odds of a really catastrophic asteroid hitting Earth is like winning a not-so-lucky lottery, Garvie said.

However, it could still happen today or a thousand years from now, he added.

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