If you are an amateur stargazer who enjoys viewing interesting cosmic objects through a telescope, there are a few galactic peepshows you want to make sure you execute before the subjects disappear forever. Russia has announced their intention to test their intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) by blasting to smithereens certain near-earth objects (NEOs). The spacerocks in their crosshairs range in size from 20-50 meters (65-165 feet). Potential targets are asteroids as well as meteorites that have broken off from asteroids which orbit the Sun and are capable of surviving the atmospheric burn of falling to Earth, posing the risk of slamming into the surface of our planet. Russia’s target practice could serve to save lives which usually runs counter to the whole point of ICBMs.
The first scheduled missile test is slated for 2036. That is when scientists expect asteroid 99942 Apophis to come within a dangerous close proximity to Earth. Although NASA has definitively ruled out the possibility of an impact, it is still expected to be a close enough encounter that Russia believes it will be within missile range. What weapons junkie could resist such an opportunity?
However, these high grade shoot-en-anny toys require upgrades. It takes days to properly prepare the fuel the rockets use. That means that Russia’s current ICBM’s cannot be rapidly deployed to destroy a meteorite that Earthlings may only detect within hours of coming into range, such as the Chelyabinsk meteorite. It will take millions of dollars to make the necessary changes. However, when they are completed Russia’s weapons of war will be converted to defensive weapons keeping the entire world safe. Instead of Russia launching people killers, they will be launching people saving asteroid blasters. Does that mean that by means of defensive measures we all become Russian by proxy? Or perhaps that simply means for a brief moment, we all become one united human race? Either way, the gringa thinks the sentiment is sweet.
Bottom line for backyard stargazers is that if you want to have a chance of seeing Apophis, you will get your last chance in about thirteen years. The asteroid was discovered twelve years ago and is a bit larger than three football fields. A pass of the asteroid is expected in 2029. This may be humanity’s last chance to view it before it’s 2036 pass that could be its final one if Russia gets its proposal approved and succeeds in blasting Apophis to infinity and beyond.
Although the 2036 pass only has a one in a million chance of impacting Earth, it is still an historical event where astronomy is concerned. Apophis will be the largest asteroid that has ever come as close to Earth as it is projected to. It will zoom by almost 19,000 miles over the heads of unsuspecting Earthlings. Although there are other asteroid’s that pass closer, such as 2012 DA14 which does a 17,000 mile altitude flyby, Apophis is much, much larger than the nearer pipsqueaks.
It is amazing how many NEOs travel by our home planet. Astronomy is a career where there is never a dull moment if you are entrusted with the task of tracking NEOs and projecting trajectories. This is a very important job to determine courses in order to protect all of humanity from the possibility of a collision. For kids intrigued with outer space and who don’t mind the math, astronomy offers the opportunity of a lifetime. To get a taste of the work they do, follow their reports on NASA’s Asteroid Watch program and stay current with updates through Twitter.
Image Source: iluminaci.com