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One of the important decisions which mankind will have to make in 2010, lies in whether or not to support the head of Russia’s space agency Roskosmos, Anatoly Perminov the launch of an unmanned vehicle for changing the trajectory of a large asteroid that could hit the Earth after 2030
The asteroid Apophis, a diameter of more than 360 meters, ten times larger than the Tunguska cosmic object (presumably a meteorite or comet), which a century ago devastated a vast territory in eastern Siberia. It is possible to establish power of the explosion of the object 30 June 1908 is comparable to the power of nuclear weapons. He threw 80 million trees in the area of 2000 square kilometers.
According to NASA, if Apophis encounter with Earth, it can free up to 100 000 times more energy than the Tunguska meteorite. Thousands of square kilometers can be devastated by the explosion, while the rest of the Earth also suffer from loss of sunlight and other effects of dust emission to the atmosphere. This scale of the threat explains why Russia, one analyst called Apophis’ cosmic terrorist “.
According to the calculations to date, Apophis, which was discovered in 2004, held several times near the Earth during the period from 2029 to 2036 in October 2009 experts in tracking near-Earth objects, Steve Chesley and Paul Chodas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, calculated that the probability of Apophis collision with Earth in 2036 is approximately 1 to 233 000, that is less than previously estimated.
But they forecast that in 2029, this asteroid will approach the planet at a distance of 30 000 km (closer than many communications satellites in geostationary orbit than the moon) will satisfy the astronomers rather than experts on international security. In the next couple of decades, some kind of an unknown comet or other space objects could fly close enough to an asteroid to change its intended trajectory – perhaps so that he sent to Earth.
According to Perminov, “Roskosmos” shall not consider the attempts to destroy the asteroid, but rather to use the laws of physics to change its trajectory. If the leadership of the Federal Space Agency “will decide to act, he said, it will work together with experts from Europe, the United States, China and other space-faring nations in developing the best option.
Scientists propose different ways to tap the asteroid away from Earth. Some have proposed to place it near a large object to change its trajectory through the mutual gravitational attraction. Another option – use a mirror, light or dyes of different colors to change the heat absorption surface of the asteroid. It can also shift its direction. Installing on an asteroid “solar sails” can lead to the fact that the solar particles will send him on another course. Others suggest that an asteroid slammed into spacecraft or other object to change the inertia of its motion.
Some scientists and many science fiction writers construct scenarios of destruction or damage to the moving asteroid, comet, meteor or space alien spacecraft with a nuclear strike. Outer Space Treaty prohibits the installation of nuclear weapons on orbiting objects, celestial bodies and placement “of such weapons in outer space in any other way.” But it can be interpreted so as to allow a one-time use of nuclear charge. The contract can be amended or country, have decided to “attack” an asteroid, may temporarily withdraw from the contract by notifying the other of its decision for a year.
The problem of a practical nature that the power of a nuclear explosion might not be enough. Even if the explosion of a nuclear warhead asteroid will break up into many small parts, they can be reunited in time to form a new large object. In addition, the spacecraft which carries a weapon, a malfunction may occur, and a nuclear warhead to fall (or even explode) somewhere on Earth.
The safest option may be testing several technologies for the next asteroid to use against Apophis, when he approaches the Earth. Unfortunately, the “attack” on the asteroid, estimated at billions of dollars. Especially considering that most likely need a lot of space launches to ensure fulfillment of the mission for a given number of attempts.
This raises the question of who should pay for such a mission, and, more importantly, who can solve it. These issues also relate to global governance and other global threats to the existence of mankind, such as climate change.
In 2008, in his report, space experts urged the UN Security Council to take a final decision on how to respond to potential threats from near-Earth objects. Council usually votes on issues that threaten international peace and security, but such a method would allow only a few countries governments decide the fate of the Earth. Perminov also apparently believes that only countries with large current space programs can participate in making decisions on the asteroid Apophis.
Because an asteroid collision could (like global climate change) affect the whole of humanity, perhaps everyone should have some voice in the decision? Perhaps, all countries should vote at the UN General Assembly that the need to take? Wins option receives more votes (perhaps necessary to specify the minimum conditions, for example, a majority must dial an alternative to win, or how many votes he has to beat following it). Another option could be a world-wide referendum where every adult earthling direct vote would have chosen the preferred method.
It may be an interesting situation, if some countries decide to act, and others – no. Will Russia’s or a coalition of the willing countries the right to attempt to change the orbit of the asteroid Apophis, without the approval of other states? What rights and responsibilities of scientists and governments who believe that the risk is more serious than believed their colleagues from other countries? Prohibited if they act without unanimous approval?
Proposal Perminova raised important questions, both scientific and political. It’s time to start looking for answers to them, which would represent no threat to the asteroid Apophis.