If the average person was asked what the biggest threat to human life on earth is, it’s likely they would respond with: climate change, pandemics, nuclear explosions, or even AI.
In his book ‘Brief Answers to the Big Questions’, Professor Stephen Hawking reveals that he considers the collision of asteroids with earth to be the biggest threat to human life.
In February of 2013 in Chelyabinsk, Russia, an asteroid of merely 20m in length exploded 30 km above earth’s ground level. The explosion was brighter than the sun and more powerful than if all the nukes on earth were to be detonated simultaneously. Even with the protection of the Troposphere and Stratosphere, the explosion resulted in windows shattering, causing 1500 injuries.
The scary part is that since 1988, over 1200 asteroids of 1m length have surpassed the communications satellite in our orbit.
In April of 2029, an asteroid with a diameter of 490m is scheduled to pass near Earth’s orbit (Harvard University, 2021). Evidently, there is an urgent need for the development of strategies to avoid the entrance of dangerous asteroids onto the surface of our planet.
Strategies for planetary protection have progressed in recent years.
Recently, physicists proposed a promising new way to protect humans from cosmic impacts named PI strategy. The gist of the method involves using a rod to disperse the asteroid into fragments as it approaches. This will not destroy the asteroid, rather, it will divide the big asteroid into many smaller asteroids each around the size of a bus. They hope to then further employ the use of more and more rods until the asteroid is small enough to be burnt up due to friction upon entry to the atmosphere (Khetia et al, 2021).
The lead physicist of the team, Alexander Cohen, stated: “If you can reduce the big events, which are dangerous, into a bunch of little events that are harmless, you’ve ultimately mitigated the threat.”(Fernandez, 2021).
Another advantage of using this method is that it would be quick to respond to the threat. This method is also compatible with the increase in the abundance of space launches. For example, the rods can be deployed by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. Although, it would act generally similar to an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) in that it would be on standby on earth, then immediately be launched into space to explode and diminish the threat (Button, 2021). Overall, this new method to combat cosmic collisions seems realistic, practical, and, just like its name, easy as PI to implement.