NASA scientist warns that Earth is unprepared for surprise asteroid or comet

A leading NASA scientist has warned that Earth is totally unprepared to deal with a serious threat from a surprise asteroid or comet.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union Dr Joseph Nuth warned that while large and potentially dangerous asteroids and comets are extremely rare they could be extinction-level events.

Nuth pointed out that while most attention has focused on asteroids comets can potentially be just as dangerous to the Earth. This is partly because Near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) are far more common, and also because the comets are more difficult to track.

The NASA scientist went on to stress the need for advance planning and preparation to deal with threats posed by large asteroids and comets. Suggestions have been put forward to use deflection spacecraft armed with nuclear bombs to stop incoming space objects hitting earth. However the lead time to build such a system is likely to be much longer than the time between detection and impact for most asteroids and comets.

Dr Nuth therefore stresses that it is critical that such a planetary defence vehicle is built now in advance of any specific detected threat from a surprise asteroid or comet. His plans include two space vehicles – an interceptor that would carry a nuclear weapon and an observer to help with the tracking of the incoming object. Such vehicles would take at least five years to plan and build.

Although NASA has recently established a planetary defense office, it currently has no planned program to build such space defence vehicles.

Dr Joseph Nuth is Senior Scientist for Primitive Bodies at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

The press conference Defending the Planet from the AGU meeting is available on YouTube :