When Asteroids Attack! Neil deGrasse Tyson and NASA Explain How To Stop an Armageddon

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.

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