Eyes on Asteroids

As asteroid whips by Earth, scientists urge plan to prepare for potential hit.

ByABC News
May 7, 2007, 8:10 PM

May 8, 2007 — -- Hello, 1862 Apollo.

Yes, your visit will be quick as you whip by planet Earth today, and you aren't getting close enough for us to get a good look unless we have a pretty good telescope in our backyard. But every time an asteroid comes close, we start to wonder when we will get hit.

No one is worried about 1862 Apollo hitting Earth -- its approach puts it 6.84 million miles away as it passes by. So named because it was the 1,862nd asteroid to be discovered, 1862 Apollo travels with a tiny moon as well.

What are the odds an asteroid will hit Earth again? Pretty good, according to some experts.

There are millions of shooting stars, and about 200,000 to 400,000 of them get close enough to be classified as asteroids that could come within range of Earth. But it only takes one as anyone who has studied the dinosaurs will tell you.

Apollo 9 astronaut Russell Schweickart believes it is simply a matter of time before another asteroid targets Earth. "It could be 20 years, or 100 years, or 1,000 years."

Schweickart is one of the founders of the B612 Foundation, which is studying how to alter the orbit of an asteroid to keep it from hitting Earth.

"It's a very infrequent occurrence, an asteroid impacting the earth, but when it happens, it will be devastating."

Schweickart is frustrated because he believes this is a project that should be taken on by an international organization. He contends there is no way to predict when an asteroid will hit Earth, or where it will hit, so no single government should be held responsible for asteroid avoidance.

He wants to see the United Nations set up an agency mandated to prevent an asteroid from hitting Earth, and he has planned a series of four meetings around the world to develop a comprehensive plan. He anticipates a project that would cost several hundred million dollars, a burden for any single country, but something much more practical as a combined effort.

How would you keep an asteroid from hitting Earth?