If pop culture has taught us non-scientists anything about asteroids, it’s that we should blow them up. From classic video game Asteroids to the Michael Bay disaster classic Armageddon, asteroids are either random bits of floating debris out to destroy us, or massive malignant space tumors hurtling our way to destroy us, which we’re told is how the dinosaurs died out. But, says superstar physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson—in Vice’s short video (above) “Blowing Up Asteroids with NASA and Neil deGrasse Tyson”—“We’re clever enough that we never have to go extinct by an asteroid. We have more choices available to us than Tyrannosaurus Rex did.” Choices like turning an asteroid into space dust? Probably not. Turns out, Armageddon wasn’t entirely scientifically accurate. In fact, NASA shows Michael Bay’s movie to its trainees to see how many scientific absurdities they can find. The record, as of 2007, was at 168.
So what to do! Well, it turns out that the chances of an asteroid colliding with the earth are slim, but still a bit too close for comfort. As Tyson explains above, there is, in fact, an asteroid headed our way, called Apophis, in 2029. If Apophis goes through a region called “the keyhole,” it will impact the earth seven years later. The probability of this occurring as of 2009 is 1 in 250,000. Yikes. Astronaut Mike Gernhardt, a primary investigator at NEEMO (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations) is on the case. His team uses underwater simulations in Key Largo, Florida to recreate an asteroid-like environment and explore it, collect samples, etc. in what NASA calls an “Analog Mission.” Just how any of this might prevent an asteroid from destroying the planet escapes me, to be honest (and the “blowing up” part of the video’s title doesn’t ever get an explanation). But the NEEMO project is still pretty cool, as you can witness in an interview with NEEMO Mission Manager Bill Todd below.
The Vice video is part of their Motherboard TV series, which informs us on its site that NEEMO, like everything cool these days, is likely to be defunded. Let’s hope they can figure out how save us from asteroid Armageddon before the money runs out.
via The Atlantic
Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.