Could Earth really be destroyed by an asteroid? An astronomer weighs in

Armageddon, in all its space suit-wearing, Aerosmith-playing glory, landed in movie theaters on July 1, 1998, making it about as old as Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler’s characters were supposed to be in the blockbuster.

And yet, Jackie Faherty, an astronomer at American Museum of Natural History in New York City, tells Yahoo Life that she still gets one question constantly: “Is there an asteroid out there that is gonna hit earth and cause either massive destruction or possibly destroy the planet?”

Thankfully, her answer is probably not, and definitely not the way it happened on screen.

“The movies that exist out there about what could happen — Armageddon being one of the more famous ones — that movie is about as scientifically incorrect as one can get,” Faherty says.

The good news is that astronomers are always on the lookout for this exact scenario.

“There might be a big rock out there with our name on it. If there is, there’s a good chance that we’ll find it, because we’ve got a lot of these really great surveys,” Faherty says. “And there’s people thinking really hard about this, about whether or not we could do something. But because we’re taking this seriously, there’s some cool ideas that people have. Can we deflect it? Could we yank it away from the Earth?”

Armageddon ended up being the highest-grossing film of the year based on world-wide receipts.

Video Transcript

JACKIE FAHERTY: My name is Jackie Faherty. I’m an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. A question I get all of the time is, is there an asteroid out there that is going to hit Earth and cause either massive destruction or possibly destroy the planet?

– It’s an asteroid, sir.

– What kind of damage are we–

– Damage? Total, sir. It’s what we call a global killer, the end of mankind.

JACKIE FAHERTY: The movies that exist out there about what could happen, “Armageddon” being one of the more famous ones, that movie is about as scientifically incorrect as one can get. There is this unknown, though. And now, because astronomers are aware of this, there’s telescopes dedicated to finding near Earth orbiting asteroids. There might be a big rock out there with our name on it. If there is, there’s a good chance that we’ll find it because we’ve got a lot of these really great surveys, and there’s people thinking really hard about this, about whether or not we could do something.

But because we’re taking this seriously, there’s– there’s some cool ideas that people have. Could we deflect it? Could we yank it away from the Earth? If you catch it when we only have 10 days, that’s going to be really tricky. If you catch it when we’ve got 15 years, 20 years, 100 years, that’s different. So then that gives us a bit of time to fly something out to the object and then start orbiting it with a weight on it essentially to start deflecting the orbit.

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