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CNN Today

Asteroid BF19 to Come Within Vicinity of Earth 22 Years from Now

Aired February 8, 2000 - 2:56 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DONNA KELLEY, CNN ANCHOR: In The New York Times today, an astronomical observation to keep you awake at night for the next 22 years or so, if you get worried about it. Asteroid BF19 is about a half-mile wide, and about two decades from now, though, it's scheduled to come within vicinity of the Earth.

The possibility of a direct collision, though, is extremely small -- about one in a million. But the big space rock is still probably worth keeping an eye on, all the same.

With us from Washington with his expert insight into the cosmos is professor Richard Berendzen. And he is an astronomer at American University.

Professor, I'm glad you could stay to visit with us quickly here. How worried should people be?

RICHARD BERENDZEN, ASTRONOMER, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Oh, I don't think they really should be worried. But we do live in a cosmic shooting gallery: Just like at the pop-marked surface of the moon.

The cosmic objects are out there. Here on Earth, we were hit by an asteroid 65 million years ago, and it killed the dinosaurs.

KELLEY: You know, that's right. And the size of this, does that concern you? And if we have 22 years to prepare, we could come up, maybe, with some defense?

BERENDZEN: Well, we could. The half-mile size is not one, one would want to fall on the city. It would be devastating. It'd be greater than all the nuclear arsenals on Earth combined, much smaller than the one that killed the dinosaurs, though.

With this long lead time, we certainly could take remedial action. First, we have to find out if in fact it's on a collision course. If we found that it were, and so far we have no evidence of that, but if it were, then we would have lead time so that we could send a craft there.

As a matter of fact, on Monday -- just next Monday -- Valentine's Day, we will be rendezvousing with an asteroid. The asteroid's name is Eros.

KELLEY: What about that one? What about the one on Valentine's Day? What can you tell us about that one?

BERENDZEN: Well, astronomers like to play with these names, and that was named after the goddess -- Greek goddess of love in the last century. But the purpose of going there was to understand more about asteroids.

We think that we know how to deflect them. We think that we could do it without using nuclear devices and trying to blow them up, whereby we would get showered with smaller rocks. We think we could nudge them out of a collision course using small rockets at the side, even in planting a reflector so that sunlight would hit it and push it.

We could imagine, as a matter of fact, moving them, ultimately, into Earth orbit, so that we have a captured new moon -- an artificial moon -- which we have just captured from the asteroid belt, and we could mine it for minerals here on Earth. So we needn't necessarily fear them.

KELLEY: Important distinction that I was reading before, can you tell us, the one on Monday and the one 22 years from now, is it just within our orbit or will it actually hit Earth?

BERENDZEN: No, it will not hit the Earth, certainly, not the one on Monday. No worry, don't anybody get panicked about that.

KELLEY: Thank you.

BERENDZEN: The one 22 years from now, astronomers are checking. We don't think it will.

KELLEY: All right, well, we'll continue to watch that. And we'll look and see what happens on Monday as well.

Professor Richard Berendzen, delighted to have you join us, thanks.

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