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NASA’s plan to save Earth from a giant asteroid

The dinosaurs could have used this.

There are a lot of bad ways to wake up from a nap. Getting hit with a space rock is certainly one of them.

One afternoon in 1954, Ann Hodges was dozing on her living room couch. At 12:45 pm, a meteorite ripped through her living room ceiling and woke her up with a direct hit to the stomach. The event left her with minor injuries and the honor of being the first person in recorded history to ever be hit directly by a meteorite, but that’s not for a lack of opportunities.

Ann Hodges being examined after she was struck by a meteorite, 1954.
The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Asteroids can and do hit Earth. Between 1988 and 2017, NASA recorded over 700 fireballs created by foreign objects entering our atmosphere. While the odds of a direct hit are extremely low, the sheer number of occurrences is enough to make us wonder: could another strike occur? If so, how dangerous would it be? After all, dinosaur extinction was likely caused by a major asteroid colliding with Earth near present-day Chicxulub, Mexico.

Hoping to avoid a similar fate for humanity, NASA scientists are currently developing techniques to detect and prepare for a significant asteroid collision. As part of their efforts, they have developed three different plans for how humans could deflect an asteroid and steer it away from impacting Earth.

One plan involves using sheer force to push the asteroid in a new direction, while others call for manipulating gravitational attraction or developing high-powered lasers to send the rock in a new direction. Regardless of the deflection method, the feasibility of a plan depends on the size of the asteroid and how fast it is approaching. For this reason, NASA is also devoting resources to searching for asteroids and mapping their paths of orbit.

To learn more about NASA’s research and how it could prevent rude awakenings from our naps of the future, watch the video above and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Also, make sure to read Brian Resnick’s in-depth analysis of asteroid research, which features interviews with NASA scientists.