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Asteroid earth strike – a question of when not if

In advance of the official Asteroid Day Live event that will take place on 30 June, a member of the EU-funded NEOSHIELD-2 project has warned it’s just a matter of time before an asteroid strikes the Earth.

Professor Alan Fitzsimmons from the Queen Mary University of London’s Astrophysics Research Centre, a member of the NEOSHIELD-2 project consortium, has said it is a question of when, not if, an asteroid, or other Near Earth Object (NEO), will collide with Earth. Joined by Brian Cox, Professor of particle physics in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester, along with Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart and International Space Station astronaut Nicole Stott, Professor Fitzsimmons is highlighting the threat of collision this Asteroid Day, a global event that will take place on Friday 30 June. On 30 June 1908, a small asteroid exploded over Tunguska in sparsely-populated Eastern Siberia, flattening 2 000 square kilometres, thankfully causing no known loss of human life. It has been classified as an impact event, even though no impact crater has ever been found: the asteroid is thought to have disintegrated at an altitude of 5 to 10 kilometres before hitting the surface of the Earth. The Tunguska event is the largest recorded official impact in world history. Professor Fitzsimmons has warned that a similar strike in today's world could easily destroy a major city and a larger asteroid could be more dangerous. ‘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,’ he commented. ‘Astronomers find near-Earth asteroids every day and most are harmless. But 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.’ Asteroid Day is a global awareness campaign, which brings people from around the world together to learn about asteroids, the impact hazard they may pose, and what we can do to protect our planet, families, communities, and future generations from asteroid impacts. Supported by the Luxembourgish Government Asteroid Day LIVE will be the first-ever 24-hour broadcast from Luxembourg. It includes live programming from the European Space Agency (ESA), the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and NASA. The NEOSHIELD-2 project has focused on developing new techniques and instruments for guidance, navigation and control (GNC) in close vicinity of asteroids and comets. The project has also sought to carry out astronomical observations of NEOs to improve understanding of their physical properties. It is concentrating on the smaller size, of most concern for mitigation purposes. The project is also aiming to identify other objects suitable for analysis and NEO deflection demonstration purposes. Beginning in March 2015 and due to finish in September 2017, the project received just over EUR 4 million and was coordinated by Airbus DS, based in Germany. For more information, please see: project website



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