COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Tuesday April 7, 2015 – In 2014, it was revealed that planet Earth is up to 10 times more likely to be hit by an asteroid than was previously thought, despite the fact that most impacts occur in unpopulated areas including the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
The findings of the privately-funded B612 Foundation research were based on information released from the Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation, which operates a network of sensors that constantly monitors Earth listening for the infrasound signatures of nuclear detonations.
These sensors picked up asteroid impacts on a surprisingly large scale, detecting 26 explosions on Earth ranging in energy from one to 600 kilotons between 2000 and 2013 alone.
Most notably, in February 2013, hundreds of people were injured when a meteor exploded near the city of Chelyabinsk in Russia.
Now a Danish NGO is seeking funding to develop a spacecraft carrying a nuclear device to blow up asteroids well before they reach our planet.
Their system, the Hyper Velocity Asteroid Impact Vehicle (HAIV), would have the capacity to launch and reach an Earth-bound asteroid within about 100 days, destroying it and eliminating any threat.
Created by the Danish-based Emergency Asteroid Defence Project (EADS), the project aims to find a way to protect Earth from destruction when all other methods have failed.
After the discovery of a potentially dangerous asteroid in deep space, the HAIV would be launched on one of several possible rockets, including an Atlas V or Delta IV. The HAIV would then target the asteroid by matching its orbit.
The strike works using a “leader” and a “follower” spacecraft, the former of which would separate and impact the asteroid, forming a crater in its surface. The follower, carrying a nuclear warhead, would then enter the crater and explode, destroying the asteroid.
The resulting debris would either be deflected from Earth, or would be too small to cause any significant damage.
“The mission of preparing humanity for a potential asteroid collision is something that should have been done a long time ago,” the team says on its website.
“We, as an advanced species, have had the basic technology for about half a century.
“Events like the one in Chelyabinsk in 2013 could have been avoided if adequate detection and deflection missions had been developed.”
The scientists maintain that there are no safety issues with launching a nuclear device and, as the HAIV will be hitting an asteroid so far into space, “no nuclear material, radiation or shock wave will reach Earth.”
The Danish team is now looking to raise US$1 million to US$10 million over the next year through crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter.
They plan to build a version of HAIV that could destroy an asteroid 165ft (50 metres) across by 2018, and want to be ready to stop asteroids up to 985ft (300 metres), which account for 99.9 per cent of asteroids near Earth, by 2020.
The team notes that their method, using a nuclear device, should only be used if other methods have failed. Alternatives could include hitting an asteroid with a laser to deflect it, or rebounding solar rays into it to have the same effect.
“However, in extreme cases with less than one year warning time and when all non-nuclear methods fail, we believe the HAIV system is the only and most appropriate technique currently available to defend Earth,” they said in a statement.