Russia mulls beacons and the bomb to thwart asteroids
by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) March 12, 2013
Russian officials on Tuesday proposed ideas ranging from planting beacon transmitters on asteroids to megaton-sized nuclear strikes to avert the threat from meteor collisions with the Earth.
Saving the world from asteroid strikes has moved out of the realm of science fiction in Russia into a political reality after a spectacular meteor explosion injured over 1,500 people in the Russian Urals in February.
The meteor strike over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk raised fears of what could happen if an even larger space body entered the earths atmosphere above an inhabited area.
Russian space agency chief Vladimir Popovkin told a special conference at the Federation Council, the Russian upper house, that Russia was closely following the asteroid Apophis that is due to come close to the Earth in 2036.
"We want to put a beacon on the asteroid Apophis to ascertain its exact orbit and work out what further actions to take with respect to the asteroids approach to the Earth in 2036," he said quoted by Russian news agencies.
NASA has already said that according to its calculations there is no danger of the asteroid colliding with the Earth.
Popovkin said that an initial state plan to combat threats from space could appear in Russia at the end of 2013 but the first real measures would only be adopted no earlier than 2018-2020.
He did not give details on the cost of the programme, although Russian news agencies said previous estimates had been around 58 billion rubles ($1.9 billion).
A senior official from Russias nuclear agency Rosatom told the same conference that taking out an asteroid with a nuclear weapon would require a bomb with a force of at least one megaton.
"Intercepting an asteroid of a span of more than one kilometre would need the use of nuclear material of the power of over a megaton," said Oleg Shubin, the deputy director of the department of nuclear munitions experiments at Rosatom.
"This is a separate scientific task that needs to be solved," he added
Shubin said that it could not be predicted well in advance when some 50 percent of asteroids and meteors in the tails of comets would be on a collision course with the earth.
He said while the probability of an asteroid collision was low it could still happen at any time.
"In the foreseeable future I cannot see any other danger that would lead - at the very least - to the disintegration of human civilisation," Shubin said.