Odds of asteroid hitting Earth ‘infinitesimal’

By Marc Larocque

The world is going to end. But it could come sooner than you thought.

Fear was sparked after a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science focused on the possibility that the asteroid Apophis – named after the Ancient Egyptian god Apep, “the Destroyer” – could cause an apocalypse. At a Feb. 18 meeting in San Francisco, scientists discussed methods to stop the asteroid, which was discovered in the summer of 2004.

The rock has a one in 45,000 chance of striking Earth on April 13, 2036, according to NASA reports.

The Association of Space Explorers and other organizations across the world are now urging the world’s leading organizations, like the United Nations, to form practical plans for dealing with dangerous asteroids.

Apophis will go behind the sun and become hidden from astronomers’ views within the next month, said Brian Marsden, a British astronomer and longtime director of the Minor Planet Center at Harvard. It will be able to be studied again in 2011, he said.

“But if the probabilities don’t decrease after more research, we should start considering a plan for action by 2029 so we don’t go out the way of the dinosaurs,” he said. “Though, these probabilities for potential Earth impacts tend to decrease as research is continued.”

Along with Apophis, there are 128 other potential future Earth impacts, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Sentry System. Some of these have higher probabilities of hitting Earth than Apophis.

Historically, the media has made much fuss about asteroids, Mardsen said.

“Ostensibly, global warming seems like a much less tangible certainty than a cataclysmic asteroid,” he said. “That’s why people get more scared about this.”

Northeastern astronomy professor Stephen Reucroft said he believes the probability of Apophis hitting Earth is “infinitesimal” and that people should be more concerned with other problems.

“The biggest problem we have is that our so-called leaders are basically know-nothings who insist on wasting our cash reserves on futile exercises such as the current war in Iraq,” he said. “We already have plenty of money to use science and technology to protect ourselves.”

Andrew Berlanstein, a sophomore sociology major, said he believes Apophis is worth preparing for.

“Blowing it up Bruce Willis style is a ridiculous thought,” he said. “It could work, but then I think that there [would] be all these smaller rocks scattering about, causing a mess.”

However, Marco Gomez, a sophomore communications major, said he believes we should not be concerned at all.

“The last thing we should worry about is a comet. I am 100 percent against putting money into a program that would stop this asteroid,” he said. “If it does strike the Earth, I think it was meant to be.”

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