Dying in a fiery ball of rock and ash doesn’t exactly sound like the best way to go, but experts have warned that modern civilisation may indeed face the same fate as the dinosaurs.
A leading astrophysicist has warned of the danger that unexpected asteroids pose to our planet, and classified the threat not as a matter of if, but when.
Professor Alan Fitzsimmons claimed it is just a matter of time before the inevitable occurs, and we’ve just got to hope it lands somewhere away from human populations rather than near a city which it could “easily destroy”.
The expert from Queen’s University, Belfast, said: “It is important to know that scientists and engineers have made great strides in detecting Near-Earth Asteroids and understanding the threat posed by them. Over 1,800 potentially hazardous objects have been discovered so far, but there are many more waiting to be found.”
Fitzsimmons was joined by Brian Cox, and astronauts from the International Space Station (ISS) to raise awareness of the annual Asteroid Day (30 June), which marks the anniversary of an asteroid strike in Russia.
On that day in 1908, a small asteroid exploded over Tunguska in Siberia and devastated 800 square miles of land. Fortunately, it caused no recorded human casualties.
But Fitzsimmons worries we are due a repeat event, he said: “It is still possible the next Tunguska would take us by surprise, and although we are much better at finding larger asteroids, that does us no good if we are not prepared to do something about them.”
Fitzsimmons is not the first expert to warn that earth is unprepared for asteroid hits - in December 2016 a NASA scientist, Joseph Nuth, said we are totally unprepared to defend ourselves against foreign objects from space.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, Nuth said: “The biggest problem, basically, is there’s not a hell of a lot we can do about it at the moment,” according to The Guardian.
Despite the NASA planetary defence office having been established – with the aim to observe the skies for possible asteroid strikes – this will supposedly not give us a large enough window to begin a preventative mission.
In fact, it takes years to complete a ‘deflection’ operation – five to launch a spacecraft - and the most recent ‘near miss’ with Mars in 2014 was only noticed 22 months before impact.
Admittedly there is a very low chance of an earth impact in the next 100 years, approximately 0.01% according to NASA themselves, but Nuth said: “On the other hand they are the extinction-level events, things like dinosaur killers, they’re 50 to 60 million years apart, essentially.
“You could say, of course, we’re due, but it’s a random course at that point.”