Can Earth Dodge Asteroid Heading This Way?

ByABC News
February 18, 2007, 8:36 PM

Feb. 19, 2007 — -- Circle your calendar. April 13th, 2036 could be a really, really bad day on planet Earth.

A group of astronauts and engineers warns that an asteroid may pass uncomfortably close to Earth that day. The chances it will actually hit are just one in 45,000, but even at those odds, the scientists warn, the United Nations should consider a response.

The scientists met this past weekend in San Francisco to discuss the potential threats asteroids pose to the Earth and what can be done to prevent a possible collision.

Most feared is Apophis, a large asteroid that will pass within 10,000 miles of Earth around 2029 and even closer in 2036.

Dr. Dan Barry, a retired astronaut, told ABC News, "Even if the probability is low of an asteroid hitting Earth, if it has the potential to have a significant impact, then it has to be looked at. It is the absolutely responsible thing to do. In fact, it would be irresponsible not to do so."

Barry said more research is needed so that when a potentially dangerous asteroid is found, there is a plan in place. He said it is therefore important to start the search for asteroids now, to allow enough time to effectively deal with them.

Scientists believe that if advance warnings of dangerous asteroids like Apophis can be made decades in advance, there will be enough time to try and knock them off course.

Suddenly, Bruce Willis on a mission to stop a devastating asteroid from destroying Earth, as he did in the movie "Armageddon," does not seem as far-fetched.

Nobody knows for sure what it would take to push a massive asteroid off its course, but the theoretical possibilities include detonating weapons on an asteroid's surface or using gravitational pull to alter a possible collision course.