Posted on Friday, May 02, 2014
By Kadri

Incoming Asteroid: What Could We Do About It? by Duncan Lunan

Rating: 8/10

In Lunan's Incoming Asteroid the reader first gets acquainted with asteroids – large boulders mostly in orbit beyond the orbit of Mars, but sometimes in various other orbits as well.

The second type of object that is very important for this book are comets – the dirty ice-balls that come further away from the Kuiper belt or even further from the Oort cloud.

Comets and asteroids have different physical characteristics and chemical composition, but they do have some things in common – for example their orbits might cross the orbit of the Earth, making them Near-Earth Objects or NEOs – the search for which has gotten rather active in the past years, with most of the objects larger than a kilometer in diameter having been discovered already.

In case of asteroid discoveries what most interests astronomers in the first place are the asteroids' orbit and mass, but what would happen if there'd be a discovery of an asteroid that has enough mass to devastate a large part of the Earth and is on a collision course with the planet in the next ten years?

That is the problem with which Lunan continues. We find out about what would be the political reaction and whether something can be done even before, when there hasn't been any such disturbing discovery as an asteroid coming straight at us. Although the impression is that before a certain threat there won't be almost any action taken. However if there would be a discovery what could we possibly do about it?

Lunan shows some of the ways in which authors of science-fiction books and producers of sci-fi movies have gotten rid of asteroids – blowing them up with nuclear-war-heads etc. Naturally those aren't the only ways as Lunan shows most of the methods would be inefficient or make the asteroid even a bigger threat. But he does have some alternative methods for dealing with the threat, which constitute some of the most interesting parts of this book as the reader can find out about how could giant mirrors be used for getting rid of a potential impactor or why a manned mission might be necessary in case of some other possible methods.

In general the book is very illuminating, and Lunan shows that not all is without hope – there are ways in which humankind might deal with a potential threat, but as the technologies needed for it haven't been tested in large part, we can't know whether or not they'd work in real life.

It is interesting how Lunan is able to first show that we'd be in a hopeless situation if the asteroid impact is imminent as there haven't been any steps taken to counter the threat, but then he shows what would be possible in an ideal case – with enough time to act and prepare, but then after the proposed technological solutions have been presented the reader also gets an impression of what would happen if everything fails or if there have been no actions taken against the asteroid. It is a sad end, where a sufficiently large rock from the sky will have destroyed a lot more than just a city or two and killed people, but what might lead to the collapse of states and democracy as tidal waves and dust clouds do their jobs.
Maybe reading this book by a large enough part of human population (especially politicians) would make it possible to avoid such a fate. But of-course it might be years or centuries or even thousands of years before there is a big enough impact that would make everyone pay more attention to the possible prevention of asteroid or comet impacts.

A wonderfully informative and important book that shows both the hope and possible destruction.

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