An asteroid - Asteroid BX34 - and its close encounter with Earth on Friday, as well as the solar storms last week, sparked apocalyptic hysteria across nations and even called for global mitigation measures to be implemented in the wake of an impending doomsday threat.
While it may not be that 2012 is necessarily the end of the world, think-tanks across the world have taken the threat of such earnestly and have launched an international project to assess the threat posed by asteroids or comets, while looking for solutions to protect Earth from such impacts.
According to Space.com, the project NEOShield is a European-funded program led by the German Aerospace Center. The project has roped in the finest scientists from universities and industrial partners in Germany, France, the UK, Spain, the U.S. and Russia. The consensus seems to be that the project will take three-and-a-half years.
The scientific side of this will include the analysis of observational data on Near Earth Objects (NEOs) and laboratory experiments in which projectiles are fired at asteroid surface analog materials with different compositions, densities, porosities and structures, Alan Harris, a senior scientist and NEOShield project leader said in a statement. We need to understand how the momentum transfer from a kinetic impactor to an asteroid depends on the physical characteristics of the asteroid, he added. The kinetic impactor that Harris referred to is a planetary defense device used to deflect NEOs from their impact paths and thereby avoid catastrophic events.
Despite the fact that NEO threats may seem distant events, experts quoted in a BBC report believe the planet's geologic and biologic history have provided substantial evidence of such impacts.
A large number of meteoroids enter the Earth's atmosphere every day; amounting to more than a hundred tons of material. However, most of these are quite small and vaporize completely before hitting the surface. Unfortunately, NASA believes a football field-sized object will hit the Earth approximately every 2,000 years, causing significant damage to the areas hit. The most devastating effects, however, are usually caused by objects large enough to threaten Earth's civilization, the space agency added. These, fortunately, are predicted to come around only once in every few million years.
Scientists across the world are doing their part in preventing asteroid collisions. Nevertheless, popular doomsday prophecies will not go away.
The ancient Mayans, for example, are commonly believed to have predicted the end of the world on Dec. 21, 2012. Other doomsday prophesies such as those of Nostradamus indicate the possibility of a Third World War and a comet that suddenly appears out of the sky and strikes the Earth, resulting in devastation. The Biblical apocalypse also points out to an asteroid or meteor-like collision, albeit with no reference to any date.