While the potential is very low, there is a chance that at some point, an asteroid could impact the Earth. While most asteroids are small enough to cause little damage on the ground, the potential for a larger asteroid that could have drastic consequences for life on Earth can’t be ignored. Massive asteroids have impacted the Earth in the distant past, with the most famous being responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Researchers worldwide have been working on methods of deflecting large asteroids if one ever poses a significant threat to the Earth. Recently, Chinese researchers outlined a plan where they want to use rockets to deflect a massive and potentially deadly asteroid. Researchers want to send 20 of the largest rockets China produces to practice turning away a sizable asteroid.
China isn’t alone in studying how to deflect asteroids using rockets. Sometime between late 2021 and early 2022, a robotic spacecraft will be launched to intercept a pair of asteroids relatively close to the Earth by the US. The spacecraft will arrive later that year, and NASA plans to crash the rocket on the smaller of the two asteroids to see how much its trajectory changes.
Researchers working at China’s National Space Science Center have found in simulations that 23 Long March 5 rockets hitting simultaneously could deflect a large asteroid from its path by a distance of 1.4 times the Earth’s radius. The calculations were based on asteroid Bennu, which is as wide as the Empire State Building is tall.
The asteroid is in a class of space rocks that could cause regional or continental damage if it impacted the Earth. Any asteroid larger than one kilometer would have global consequences. So far, China has launched six Long March 5 rockets successfully since 2016. Scientists believe that changing the path of an asteroid is lower risk than trying to blast the asteroid into smaller pieces using nuclear warheads, which might not change the asteroid’s path.