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NASA scientist warns of 'extinction-level' event

A decorated NASA scientist warns that a catastrophic event that could wipe out life on earth is very much a possibility and that the world may not have enough time to prepare for such an event.

At the American Geophysical Union's annual meeting held in San Francisco, California last week, Joseph Nuth, an award-winning senior scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, stated that asteroids that are big enough to pose danger to earth are rare, but there's still a possibility that one could get into the earth's path.

(Reuters/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout)Image courtesy of NASA shows an artist's concept of a broken-up asteroid.

"But on the other hand they are the extinction-level events, things like dinosaur killers, they're 50 to 60 million years apart, essentially. You could say, of course, we're due, but it's a random course at that point," Nuth told attendees at the event.

Nuth highlighted the need to reduce the time to prepare to react to such as possibility, citing that scientists had only 22 months heads up before a comet came into close encounter with Mars back in 2014. He said that such amount of time would not have been enough had earth been the one on the comet's path.

With a disclaimer that he's not a policymaker, Nuth shared his team's scientific recommendation of building two spacecraft — an interceptor rocket and an observer spacecraft — which will be put in storage. Once there's is a threat, the observer can be launched to gather information that will help maximize the effectiveness of the interceptor. Once there is a "predefined level of certainty," the interceptor can then be released to deflect the heavenly body from impacting earth.

The scientist emphasized that building a spacecraft that is highly reliable takes time, but it can be built prior to need. A stored spacecraft can be launched within a year, which is much shorter than the five years that it normally takes to build and launch one.

NASA officials, however, assure that there is no immediate threat of a major asteroid or comet potentially hitting the earth for at least the next 100 years.

A statement released by NASA to the post reads in part, "The agency continues to aggressively develop strategies and plans with partners in the US and abroad to enhance our identification and tracking efforts, and develop options for mitigation and planetary defense."

It further states, "To date, approximately 95 percent of potentially hazardous asteroids and comets larger than 1 kilometer in size that could pose danger to Earth have been found. Additionally, there are no detected impact threats for the next 100 years."

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