Asteroids are small rocky bodies that usually sit in the inner Solar System, orbiting the Sun. There are millions of them flying around space and their collisions – known as impact events – have played a significant role in shaping many planets. However, they have also played a devastating role in the Earth’s history and it is believed that one may have wiped out the dinosaurs.
That same view is held by leading cosmochemist Natalie Starkey, who revealed one could even hit tomorrow.
Speaking during a recent StarTalk podcast with Neil deGrasse Tyson, the popular science communicator said: “You probably wonder why I’m so interested in these objects and it’s because I’m inherently interested in where we came from.
“We’re not on this planet for very long, most of us 100 years if we’re lucky and in that time I think we should give a purpose to our life.
“I’d love to figure out why we’re here and how we got here and what we’re leaving to our future descendants.
“We may have only got here because of comets and asteroids and actually in the future we may die off because of comets and asteroids.
“They could collide with us and, you know, devastate all of humanity.”
Dr Starkey, who is also a Public Engagement Officer at the Open University, called for more people to show an interest in space rocks.
She added: “I want to understand these objects for many reasons because of how we got here, but also to protect us in the future.
Thankfully, leading space agencies like NASA do not expect any major impact in the foreseeable future.
The US space agency said: “Experts estimate that an impact of an object the size of the one that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 – approximately 55 feet – takes place once or twice a century.
“Impacts of larger objects are expected to be far less frequent – on the scale of centuries to millennia.
“However, given the current incompleteness of the NEO catalogue, an unpredicted impact – such as the Chelyabinsk event – could occur at any time.”