The giant asteroid that will narrowly miss crashing into Earth has caused many people to wonder: what if it was not going to miss? Lucky for Earth's inhabitants, there are scientists whose job it is to think about such scenarios and prepare for what they say is just a matter of time before such a scenario actually happens.
According to Rusty Schweickart, a former astronaut and the current chairman of the B612 Foundation, a group dedicated to predicting and preventing catastrophic asteroid strikes, there are several ways to stop an asteroid from slamming into earth.
"We have the capability - physically, technically - to protect the Earth from asteroid impacts," he told Science.com. "We are now able to very slightly and subtly reshape the solar system in order to enhance human survival."
The proven methods are to simply change the orbit of the asteroid or smash it, which has been done before by Japan and NASA, respectively. But the more novel way to prevent an asteroid from barreling into earth is to launch several small spacecrafts equipped with mirrors to "swarm" around the killer asteroid.
The spacecrafts would then tilt their mirrors at a precise angle to direct sunlight onto a specific area of the asteroid, effectively "vaporizing the rock and metal, and creating a jet plume of super-heated gases and debris," says the website of the Planetary Society, which is currently conducting experiments to research this new technique.
If that does not work, the spacecrafts could shoot sunlight-powered lasers into the asteroid, which could be powerful enough to change the trajectory path of the asteroid and take Earth out of harm's way.
However, further research needs to be done before the technique is ready to be put to use. Among the questions that still need to be answered, are whether the plumes from the vaporized asteroid will prevent sunlight from hitting the mirrors, rendering them ineffective.
There is also the possibility that debris will hit the mirrors, either breaking them or simply blocking sunlight.
Nonetheless, Bill Nye, the "Science Guy" and executive director of the Planetary Society, says the research is still ongoing to determine whether or not "mirror bees" can work, but apparently it is not far off.
"Maybe five years," Nye told Space.com. "It's not 30 years."
On Tuesday, an asteroid given the name 2005 YU55 is expected to pass by the earth.
NASA scientists do not expect the asteroid to put Earth in any danger.