Irish astrophysicist: Asteroid strike a question of when not if

A one-mile-wide meteor crater in Arizona. Picture: A Fitzsimmon

The Earth is at serious risk of an asteroid strike, according to a leading Irish astrophysicist.

Prof Alan Fitzsimmons, from the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen’s University in Belfast, has warned that an asteroid strike on the Earth is just a matter of time.

Prof Fitzsimmons has said it is a case of when an asteroid collision will happen, rather than if it will happen.

Joined by Brian Cox, the British physicist, author and TV presenter, and by astronauts such as Apollo 9’s Rusty Schweickart and the International Space Station’s Nicole Stott, Prof Fitzsimmons is highlighting the threat for Asteroid Day, a global event next Friday.

On that day in 1908, a small asteroid exploded over Tunguska, in Siberia, and devastated 800 square miles.

Prof Fitzsimmons is warning that a similar unexpected strike, in today’s world, could easily destroy a major city. A larger asteroid could be even more destructive.

“I am very pleased to be hosting Asteroid Day LIVE, this June 30,” said Prof Cox.

“This is a first-of-its-kind broadcast, celebrating and showcasing new discoveries in science that can help us understand our place in the solar system and nature, and, in particular, the behaviour of asteroids.

“I’m very enthusiastic about it, because asteroids provide a great opportunity for our civilisation, but also can pose great threats; we ignore them at our peril.”

Prof Fitzsimmons echoed those views, commenting: “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.”

On Friday, the discussions and presentations will be streamed live from Luxembourg and experts will be answering any questions via social media. Hundreds of supporting events will be held in 70 countries.

Prof Fitzsimmons is a member of the NEOshield-2 project, funded by the European Research Council to study how to deflect dangerous asteroids.

To view the live streaming on Friday, go online to asteroidday.org/live


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