In Hollywood, killer asteroids periodically threaten to destroy the planet. Armageddon is one of the better known action flicks of this ilk. In it, a team of deep core drilling experts is tasked with blowing up an asteroid “the size of Texas” from the inside out before it hurtles into the Earth. Predictably, the team of Americans save the world.
The real-life version of the asteroid action flick might be the new EU-funded consortium of international researchers led by the Berlin-based Institute of Planetary Research,
Their project is called NEOShield. The name refers to “near-Earth objects” such as asteroids, comets, and other space debris that come close enough to hit the Earth. Most asteroids are still undiscovered, and few ever threaten the planet but every 2,000 years or so, a space object large enough to cause serious damage collides with the Earth. NASA estimates that there are about 1000 asteroids with diameters of at least one kilometer, large enough that impact debris would cause firestorms and the partial blocking of sunlight.
NEOShield, the German site SpiegelOnline reports, will spend the next three years shifting through a number of ideas, including those that that have already been proposed, like NASA’s own NEO program. They include a gravity tractor, proposed by a team from the Carl Sagan Center of the SETI Institute, which envisions slowly deflecting an asteroid off course. Other more dramatic interventions include an all-out assault with nuclear missiles and firing a massive projectile at an asteroid to knock it off course.
Once the research period is complete, and if the project is able to secure additional financial support–perhaps from the European Space Agency (ESA)–it will then organize a test mission to try out the chosen technology. Without, presumably, the benefit of a monster asteroid actually on a collision course with the planet. That only happens in the movies.