Russian officials are mulling plans for defending the Earth from flying space junk using megaton bombs and a tracking beacon fitted to an asteroid.
The ideas were prompted by an incident last month in which a meteoroid shattered over the Urals city of Chelyabinsk causing a sonic boom that left 1,500 people with injuries from broken glass and other debris.
Vladimir Popovkin, the head of Roscosmos, Russia’s federal space agency, told a meeting in the upper house of parliament on Tuesday that his staff were in the process of identifying space objects that could threaten the Earth.
He said a strategy for containing those threats could be developed as early as the end of this year, although effective measures would only be in place by around 2020.
One priority was to fit a tracking device to Apophis, a 1,000-ft wide asteroid that is expected to pass close to Earth — although NASA said last month there was a million to one chance of such an impact.
“We want to put a beacon on the asteroid Apophis to ascertain its exact orbit and work out what further actions to take with respect to the asteroid’s approach to the Earth in 2036,” said Mr Popovkin.
Oleg Shubin, a senior official at Rosatom, the state nuclear agency, told the meeting that large asteroids could be knocked out with nuclear weapons before they plummeted into the atmosphere.
“Intercepting an asteroid of a span of more than one kilometre (0.6 miles) would need the use of nuclear material of the power of over a megaton,” he said, adding: “This is a separate scientific task that needs to be solved.” Boris Shustov, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Astronomy, said new super-powerful telescopes located both on land and in space were needed for early detection of incoming space objects.
The meteoroid which streaked over Chelyabinsk on February 15 exploded with the force of 30 Hiroshima bombs, and was thought to have had a mass of about 10,000 tonnes before it disintegrated. Only small fragments hit the ground.