‘It is very important to defend the Earth from asteroids’: ISRO Chairman Somanath

“It is very important to defend the Earth from asteroids and we need to prepare ourselves with a little bit of defence from the asteroids though they are  not going to come and attack us like missiles, guns or laser beams but will simply come and hit us and can be dangerous,” remarked ISRO Chairman S Somanath while speaking on a Workshop on Planetary Defence on the sidelines of the International of International Asteroid Day 2024. He said that no one nation can defend the earth against the Asteroids alone and a joint effort of different nations in the world is needed to serve the purpose. 

S Somanath added that India as a space-faring nation is very keen to work on this. Debate and discussions are required to save the Earth from any such kind of catastrophe. 

Speaking at length on asteroids, Somanath said that there were lakhs of asteroids mainly between Mars and Jupiter. “Asteroids are small in size compared to the celestial bodies such as the Sun, the Moon and the planets but have huge energy. Some of them are as big as 1000 kilometers. They move at tremendous speeds and it is very important to understand them. Many missions have gone to asteroids and collected samples. 

“It is more challenging to go to Asteroids when compared to other planetary objects such as the Moon as the Moon has a definite path around the Earth. Landing on an Asteroid is much more trickier because of their shape. However many many nations  have done this which is remarkable,” said Somanath. 

The ISRO chairman also recalled the Hollywood movie “Armageddon’ that focused on a large asteroid en route to Earth with the possibility to destroy life. He also recalled the June 30t incident in 1908 wherein a huge blast from an asteroid had flattened about 2200 square kilometre of forest destroying nearly 80 million trees in Tunguska a remote location in Siberia, Russia. 

In accordance with the UN resolution in 2016, International Asteroid Day is celebrated to “observe each year at the international level the anniversary of the Tunguska impact over Siberia Russian Federation, on 30t June 1908 and to raise public awareness about the asteroid impact hazard”. 

The workshop on planetary defence was the first of its kind in the country and aimed to raise awareness on the impact threats of asteroids, the importance of asteroids research for a better understanding of our universe and also inspire participants to find innovative solutions for planetary defence. 

Planetary defence involves early detection of hazardous asteroids, their continual observation for better characterization and risk assessment and devising an appropriate risk mitigation strategy. Several scientific missions for asteroid exploration and sample return have improved the understanding of the asteroids and the recent successful demonstrations of kinetic impactor technology for asteroid deflection by DART mission has further spurred global interest in this field. Due to this, ISRO has also initiated focused activities towards planetary defence.