About the SA Blog Network



Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American
Observations HomeAboutContact

Russian space chief makes vague threat to vaguely threatening asteroid

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Email   PrintPrint

Apophis orbitAnatoly Perminov, the head of Russia’s space agency, said today that Russia will consider deflecting the near-Earth asteroid Apophis from its present path, according to news reports. After all, Apophis’s orbit periodically brings the 270-meter asteroid uncomfortably close to Earth, and it has long been on the watch list of nearby bodies that pose a threat (however slight) to Earth. The only problem is that Perminov seems not to have done his homework on the subject.

"A scientist recently told me an interesting thing about the path [of an asteroid] constantly nearing Earth," Perminov told Voice of Russia radio, referring to Apophis, according to the news agency Ria Novosti. "He has calculated that it will surely collide with Earth in the 2030s." (To be fair, it’s worth noting that Perminov’s comments may have been loosely translated or taken out of context.)

While the unnamed scientist may indeed have calculated a future catastrophic impact, many others are on record with less worrisome analyses. In October, near-Earth object (NEO) trackers Steve Chesley and Paul Chodas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., announced that the revised odds of Apophis striking Earth during its approach in 2036 were about 1 in 233,000. Before that, it had been considered about a 1-in-45,000 shot. In fact, Apophis is currently ranked 0 on the Torino Scale, a measure of the relative hazard associated with near-Earth objects.

According to the Associated Press, Perminov offered few details for remediation of the perceived threat, other than stating that Apophis need not be destroyed. "Calculations show that it’s possible to create a special purpose spacecraft within the time we have, which would help avoid the collision without destroying it (the asteroid) and without detonating any nuclear charges," Perminov said. Many legitimate proposals for deflecting NEOs exist, including brute force tactics such as ramming or detonation as well as gentler, longer-term approaches, such as placing a spacecraft nearby to slowly tug the asteroid or comet onto a safer course through their mutual gravitational attraction.

Perminov is not off base in thinking that near-Earth objects pose a threat. But it is the Apophis-size bodies that have yet to be discovered that we should be focusing on. "The objects that people who have studied the risk from this sort of thing are worried about are the 300-meter class of objects," astronomer Edward Beshore told Scientific American in February. Beshore is principal investigator for what is currently the most prolific NEO-finding program around, the Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) at the University of Arizona. Only a fraction of those bodies, of which there may be tens of thousands, have been catalogued thus far. And without more powerful instruments, Beshore said, it may be decades before astronomers know if Apophis has any truly menacing siblings.

Diagram of Apophis’s orbit: NASA

Tags: ,

Rights & Permissions

Comments 25 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. hotblack 9:01 pm 12/30/2009

    Sweet! I’d love to see russia pour a bunch of resources into a spacecraft capable of pulling an asteroid out of harms way. Regardless of the asteroid, it’d be more impressive than any feat the cheapass americans have been up to in decades.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Bill J 1:05 am 12/31/2009

    Sounds like a great job for Bruce Willis.

    Link to this
  3. 3. MCMalkemus 4:08 am 12/31/2009

    Sounds like blotched translation to me. You must be an expert in Russian and English to translate correctly, even then it can pose problems.

    Russian scientists are highly qualified. If the head of the Russian Space Agency is concerned enough to consider sending up a deterrent, there is cause for concern.

    At least they are taking this problem seriously. The US is mostly concerned with it’s foreign wars, which is really myopic.

    Link to this
  4. 4. larkins 9:42 am 12/31/2009

    Who will be paying for it?

    Link to this
  5. 5. tmaskell 9:42 am 12/31/2009

    This would be an excellent time to test the ‘gravity tug’ idea and see just how far, in what time frame, mass ratio’s, etc, this could be done. The data could be extrapolated for many size asteroids and applied and fine tuned. I don’t think we should ignore this because of Russian political flabgab.

    Link to this
  6. 6. jack.123 3:52 pm 12/31/2009

    What about capturing Apophis,which has been suggested by Michael Hanlon,C. Jones and others.Just think of all the materials already in orbit,for use by all of nations,with a savings of trillions of dollars.It would be the next great leap for mankind.

    Link to this
  7. 7. Sgt. Coldwar 5:28 pm 12/31/2009

    Why not just paint it white and let the solar radiation pressure take over?

    Link to this
  8. 8. Michael Hanlon 5:46 pm 12/31/2009

    Russia on board the midnight train to <xox> !! We’re getting somewhere now.

    Link to this
  9. 9. Tan Boon Tee 9:58 pm 12/31/2009

    Do not take what Russian scientists say for granted, for they should know what they are talking about.

    No matter how insignificant the threat from the asteroid might seem to be by some, any effort to deflect it can well serve as a useful experiment as to how man could avoid real serious similar scenario in future.

    Link to this
  10. 10. jack.123 10:00 pm 12/31/2009

    stew6302 I still haven’t found the word Atlantis in the Bible or Nostradamus yet. Please quote where?nor does it say what dia. the mountain is in the Bible,and a lake of fire still is not a island.

    Link to this
  11. 11. robert schmidt 1:40 pm 01/1/2010

    jack.123 don’t confuse stew6302 with facts. He has a paranoid delusion to fulfill. You don’t want to become one of his, "men in black" do you? But, if you still want to help him, get him to a doctor. There are effective treatments for mental illness.

    Link to this
  12. 12. Michael Hanlon 3:23 pm 01/1/2010

    To tews 6320, I have consultes my dictionary and you are right! Under the term collision is references as sources for the word (grk, plato, see atlantis and; & mid eng, see nsrtamus) Upon further research in the Thesaurus under asteroid I find reference to this scenario: A heavy lift Russian space vehicle with a radioactive mass for fuel and also hydrazene will explode on launch and create an island of fire in the middle of Lake Baikol. The flames will carry the radioactive fuel into the upper atmosphere where it will be dispersed around the world killing million (thank god for billions). This will occur (according to Mayan coupletlic hyroglyphs) on Feb 30, 2012. Remember to duck.

    Link to this
  13. 13. Michael Hanlon 3:29 pm 01/1/2010

    I could find no reference to one mile though, as that measurement nomenclature was not in use way back then. Perhaps if you find the comparison table that converts biblical linear measurements to modern ones, you may have a point. Or if you could tell us how many cubits or pharoh’s thumb’s were indicated, jack.123 might heed your warning and not poke sticks into the steaming pile of crap it is.

    Link to this
  14. 14. jack.123 7:10 pm 01/1/2010

    You are quite right Michael,sorry I lead this important discussion away from capturing Apophis.Here’s hoping we can get everybody else on board.Have you heard any more about the President’s group about this?Maybe the Russians move on this will get the ball rolling on a joint mission including them and others.

    Link to this
  15. 15. Michael Hanlon 12:55 am 01/3/2010

    No C-in-C word yet, jack.123
    But there has been an advance in the Asteroid train on a <xox> track. And it’s really interesting. Over at Stephen Covey’s Ramblings on the future of humanity blog (just trip dub in front of Rambl) one protothad opined about using mag rail launchers. I think you know how I feel about them as a launcher out of a deep gravity well, not utile. But, I’ve had a nagging knowledge of a void in the <xox> system since it came to mind and that is the getting on and getting off parts. The rail launcher is the answer. Not on the Earth ground or the Moon’s surface, but in orbits near the passage distance of the locomotive. The rails have an orbital velocity that would be lower than the rock’s but higher than a direct launch fron either well.
    We go chemical up to rendezvous with the rail and as the rock approaches, the rail shoots us up to speed to catch the rock express. All in do-able g levels.
    On the jump off side, the rail works again! REM: rails work in two directions, speed up or slow down, it just depends on the current direction and the sequention time of the magnets. In fact the rail may act as a correcting device for aligning approaches in the near approach phase.
    Earth up to orbiting rail, pointable rail accelerates a payload at low g levels to the <xox> rock, ride the rock to the moon, separate near moon approach and slide down the receiving rail to stop (well to the moon orbit velocity) , chemical landing to the lunar south pole. To come home: reverse the process.
    Drawing from George Musser’s Solar at home blog here, It would be feasible for the rails to be solar powered! So now the round trip cost is just about what Branson wants for a Virgin Galactic ride X two. Look out moon, here we come. And we come in droves.

    Link to this
  16. 16. jack.123 4:51 am 01/3/2010

    Because Apophis is close to the sun,solar is a very good idea.If we stop the tumbling so one side aways faces the sun,all the better,unlimited power for all operations. Cables could be ran for rails in every direction.Apophis could become a space craft itself,while providing materials for many other projects.What a great time for space travel this could be.

    Link to this
  17. 17. Wayne Williamson 2:45 pm 01/3/2010

    Jack and Michael
    I think your both on the right track. Of course it depends on what Apophis is made of. If lighter materials, then leading it away might be the better choice. If mostly metals then it should be mined/broken down…much cheaper up there already then trying to get that amount in space.
    After thinking about it, maybe regardless of the composition it should be mined…gets rid of a potential problem and provides resources…

    should probably start out with a probe to see what it’s made of…

    Link to this
  18. 18. brian 9:27 pm 01/3/2010

    your all nuts, if a heavy from russia is willing to spend a lot of money on a so-called fruitless endevour about an astroid hitting earth, I would listen closely. they happened to be the second superpower a few years ago. I am almost positive our government, (USA) would not tell us that we and all our families where about to die. They will take care of themselves first, why do you think all the wealth distribution is going on? To buy your way in.

    Link to this
  19. 19. Michael Hanlon 9:30 pm 01/3/2010

    They have an inkling of what constitutes the rock’s make up. They have derived from its albido the type of rock and from that, its ilk. But yes, send a robot to investigate further. But in the immediate future we should become skilled at harvesting the crops of the heavens. Practice makes perfect. There are many, easier to reach rocks just beyond the moon’s orbit. Get one of those. Start small.
    99942 Apophis will be on the far side of the sun for the next few years. It does not venture out to the radius of the earth’s orbit until 2016.A probe rendezvous then would be nice. In the meantime……

    Link to this
  20. 20. jack.123 8:03 am 01/4/2010

    Another great use of Apophis,would be to use it to clean low earth orbit of all the junk we don’t want there.By using it at different hights in a sweeping orbit over a few years it could remove all the stuff ,being careful not hitting anything important,making it a safe place to be again.We wouldn’t do this till after a lot of practice of flying Apophis as a spacecraft.

    Link to this
  21. 21. Michael Hanlon 12:48 am 01/6/2010

    FOR ANYONE INTERESTED, THE DIAGRAM FROM NASA ILLUSTRATED ABOVE is actually a frame from the animation of neo orbits at JPL. If you run the animation you will see that 99942 Apophis spends a few days in the gravity well of VENUS in 2016 (if I recall the year correctly). NASA and JPL have refused to acknowledge that this encounter will impact the course of the object beyond that date. Maybe the Russians would like to have a go at the re-calculating of he path. We know that the original path calc’ed by our guys was wrong and was redone and proven in error by a high schooler in Germany. NASA admitted that error but will not do a re-do.

    Link to this
  22. 22. elderlybloke 2:10 am 01/6/2010

    Dear Michael Hanlon,
    If I am still around in 2012 , I will observe the event of 30 Feb.
    Thanks for the information.

    Link to this
  23. 23. bucketofsquid 5:59 pm 01/6/2010

    We need to learn how to direct apophis so we can start dropping additional mass on Mars to help it retain atmosphere. When it has an Earth like mass we can drop comets on it to add atmosphere and maybe water and have us a nice ice planet to live on.

    Or not….

    Link to this
  24. 24. Michael Hanlon 4:06 am 01/7/2010

    …. Hang in there. One way to cheat death is to go to heaven before it comes for us. It isn’t here on Earth. Maybe it’s out there somewhere. Let’s go look.

    Link to this
  25. 25. sonofanel 2:20 am 01/12/2010

    This could be the next X-Prize, see who can shove it the furthest!

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Email this Article