Planetary Protection; October 2002; Scientific American Magazine; by Steve Nadis; 1 Page(s)
John L. Remo has a modest goal: he'd like to save the planet. Unlike some delusional people who share his interest, Remo is a level-headed physicist, based at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and his research might actually further that goal. Since the mid-1990s he and his colleagues at Sandia National Laboratories have conducted the first experiments aimed at seeing how momentum from high-intensity radiation bursts is transferred to meteorite fragments. With access to Sandia's Z machine, the world's most powerful xray generator, Remo and his team could guide efforts to divert an incoming asteroid or comet.
A devastating collision with a near-earth object (NEO) may be only a matter of time. Consider asteroid 2002 MN: this past June the 100-meter-wide rock came within 120,000 kilometers of our planet. "That's almost too close for comfort," Remo says, especially considering that 2002 MN was discovered three days after its near miss. More unnerving were initial reports of asteroid NT7: this two-kilometer-wide rock swings by in 2019; if it were to collide, it would cause global havoc (the latest calculations indicate that it will miss).