Can we protect Earth from a devastating asteroid? - Los Angeles News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

Can we protect Earth from a devastating asteroid?

Posted: Updated:
NEW YORK (MYFOXNY) -

It came without warning: a house-sized asteroid hit Chelyabinsk, Russia, more than a year ago. The asteroid was traveling at nearly 40,000 miles an hour with more explosive energy than the nuclear bomb that exploded over Hiroshima. Those on the ground suffered injuries, mostly cuts, but no one died.

Why? In a word: luck.

"Had it hit much lower, no one who observed the event would have been alive to talk about it," said Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and the host of "Cosmos" on FOX.

He called that a fortunate experiment, a wake-up call with minimal consequences.

"One of my favorite posters on the Internet says 'asteroids are nature's way of asking you how is that space program coming along?" he said.

Asteroids are rocks, sometimes containing metal, that orbit the sun. When they hit the ground, as the one in Russia did, they're called meteorites.

A meteorite that hit Greenland thousands of years ago weighs about 34 tons. By comparison, the meteorite that hit Russia last year weighed about 10,000 tons.

But hold on. What if there was a way to alter the tracks of asteroids and therefore eliminate the threat they pose to us here on earth?

NASA says there is. The agency calls it the asteroid redirect mission. The Obama administration has asked Congress for $133 million in the 2015 fiscal year to fund it. The goal is to find an asteroid near earth, lasso it, and eventually send humans to land on it and study it.

NASA also wants to prove that it can move an asteroid in case one is on a collision course with us.

"Rather than just run from it and buy water and toilet paper, you can say 'we can deflect this,'" Tyson said.

We asked Dr. Denton Ebel at the Museum of Natural History how that might be done.

"The gravity of our spacecraft would pull the object off its course to a different course," Ebel said. "In the long run, there's an asteroid with our name on it."

Those are ominous words that evoke the thriller "Armageddon."

But scientists say this isn't the stuff of science fiction. It's science fact.

"For the future of our wealth, our health, our security, our energy needs, if we ignore what space has to offer, we will doom ourselves to extinction here on earth," Tyson said.

While Tyson said that he wants NASA to pursue its asteroid ambitions, he acknowledged the technology may still be years away.

A cosmic event doomed the dinosaurs. It might take some big ideas, such as those NASA is studying, for us to avoid the same fate.

  • The Big IdeaMore>>

  • The Big Idea

    Making New York City more energy efficient

    Making New York City more energy efficient

    Tuesday, July 29 2014 9:22 AM EDT2014-07-29 13:22:47 GMT
    More than half the population of New York City rides public transportation to work. No other metropolis in this country even approaches that percentage or the MTA's total number of riders. For that reason, New York likely ranks as the most energy-efficient city in the nation. But what would it take to make the city even more energy-efficient or even self-sufficient?
    More than half the population of New York City rides public transportation to work. No other metropolis in this country even approaches that percentage or the MTA's total number of riders. For that reason, New York likely ranks as the most energy-efficient city in the nation. But what would it take to make the city even more energy-efficient or even self-sufficient?
  • The Big Idea

    Can you fight a hurricane?

    Can you fight a hurricane?

    Monday, June 23 2014 10:24 PM EDT2014-06-24 02:24:11 GMT
    Superstorm Sandy turned this region upside down, destroying homes, obliterating businesses, ruining coastlines, and uprooting lives. Like so many, I watched as Sandy reduced our beach-side towns to rubble. In the two years that have passed, the focus has been on rebuilding getting people back on their feet. But what if you could fight Mother Nature?Hurricanes are fueled by the heat and energy in warm ocean water.
    Superstorm Sandy turned this region upside down, destroying homes, obliterating businesses, ruining coastlines, and uprooting lives. Like so many, I watched as Sandy reduced our beach-side towns to rubble. In the two years that have passed, the focus has been on rebuilding getting people back on their feet. But what if you could fight Mother Nature?Hurricanes are fueled by the heat and energy in warm ocean water.
  • The Big Idea

    3D printing revolutionizing medicine and more

    3D printing revolutionizing medicine and more

    Tuesday, May 20 2014 10:46 AM EDT2014-05-20 14:46:59 GMT
    Imagine it. Design it. Hold it in your hands. Technology first introduced in the 1980s is now open to a whole new market with 3D printers regularly available for less than $2,000. It's creating a wave of innovation and new competition among entrepreneurs like Jerry Castanos. He just opened 3D Heights, a full-service printing lab in Washington Heights. Among his top clients are med students at nearby Columbia University.
    Imagine it. Design it. Hold it in your hands. Technology first introduced in the 1980s is now open to a whole new market with 3D printers regularly available for less than $2,000. It's creating a wave of innovation and new competition among entrepreneurs like Jerry Castanos. He just opened 3D Heights, a full-service printing lab in Washington Heights. Among his top clients are med students at nearby Columbia University.
  • Local NewsLocal NewsMore>>

  • Friday Night Live: August 22, 2014

    Friday Night Live: August 22, 2014

    Friday, August 22 2014 10:34 PM EDT2014-08-23 02:34:20 GMT
    This is Fox 5's Friday Night Live, a weekly celebration of the end of the work week. All summer long, the Fox 5 team brings you the latest in entertainment, nightlife, food, and music in our area. In this episode: Ace Frehley, Big Sean, Week End Trends, and Chef Luca Manfé of MasterChef.
    This is Fox 5's Friday Night Live, a weekly celebration of the end of the work week. All summer long, the Fox 5 team brings you the latest in entertainment, nightlife, food, and music in our area. In this episode: Ace Frehley, Big Sean, Week End Trends, and Chef Luca Manfé of MasterChef.
  • Berg'n: new beer and food hall in Brooklyn

    Berg'n: new beer and food hall in Brooklyn

    Friday, August 22 2014 10:00 PM EDT2014-08-23 02:00:35 GMT
    The guys behind the Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg are at it again with a new food and booze venue called Berg'n, a new beer hall in Crown Heights. The place doesn't officially open until August 27, 2014, but owners Eric Demby and Jonathan Butler are giving it a test run for special guests, family, and the press.
    The guys behind the Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg are at it again with a new food and booze venue called Berg'n, a new beer hall in Crown Heights. The place doesn't officially open until August 27, 2014, but owners Eric Demby and Jonathan Butler are giving it a test run for special guests, family, and the press.
  • Giving your college-bound kids their space

    Giving your college-bound kids their space

    Friday, August 22 2014 9:31 PM EDT2014-08-23 01:31:50 GMT
    Going off to college is an exciting time for the entire family, especially for the upcoming freshman. But with technology, parents can be in touch all the time. What's too much and what's just enough? Freshman move-in day seems to be harder on the parents than the students at Stony Brook University.
    Going off to college is an exciting time for the entire family, especially for the upcoming freshman. But with technology, parents can be in touch all the time. What's too much and what's just enough? Freshman move-in day seems to be harder on the parents than the students at Stony Brook University.
Powered by WorldNow

KTTV FOX 11
1999 S. Bundy Dr.
Los Angeles CA 90025

Main: (310) 584-2000
News Tips? (310) 584-2025

Didn't find what you were looking for?
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Fox Television Stations, Inc. and Worldnow. All Rights Reserved.
Privacy Policy | New Terms of Service What's new | Ad Choices