The potential danger posed by meteorite collisions with the Earth is great yet technologies developed by space powers will make it possible to create an asteroid defense system in five to seven years from now, Director of Russia's Planetary Defense Center Anatoly Zaitsev said.
The expert presented an estimate of the possible consequences of the fall of an asteroid 250 meters in diameter in the Moscow region at the 52nd session of the Scientific and Technical Sub-Committee of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. According to the estimate, a field of seismic activity ranging from six to ten points will have a radius of about 200 kilometers and the number of dead and wounded will exceed one million people.
"Mankind has everything it needs to protect our planet from asteroids, including comet nuclei, [an asteroid defense system can be developed] in five or seven years. All it takes is a political decision made on the international level," Zaitsev said.
"The recent fall of the Chelyabinsk meteorite showed that at present, humanity is lacking the effective means to accurately detect such objects or to protect against them," the Russian scientist said.
"Such things happen several times per century, and a similar or even more serious event can be expected any moment," he warned.
"The failure to take preventive measures would be an unforgivable act of carelessness," Zaitsev said.
"The groundwork for building an asteroid defense system was laid down in the previous century when rocket, nuclear and other technologies were developed," he said.
"Some of them originally had military purposes but they can serve the purpose for the salvation of humankind," the scientist said.
In his words, the Citadel planetary defense system proposed by his center will have active and passive defense elements.
Active defense elements will make up the core of the system; they will be arranged in two lines for short-term and long-term response, aiming to divert or destroy dangerous celestial bodies. Passive defense elements will be auxiliary and, if defense proves impossible, they will calculate the impact area and estimate the damage caused in order to facilitate the timely evacuation of civilians to shelters, he said.
Speaking of passive defense means, Zaitsev said his center had developed a hardware and software package on the orders from the Emergency Situations Ministry to model the trajectories of asteroids approaching the Earth, their movement through the atmosphere, the impact zone, potential damage caused and consequences.
Specialists from 15 organizations, among them the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Emergency Situations Ministry and Rosatom, and some CIS countries are collaborating with Russia's Planetary Defense Center on non-profit partnership principles.
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