“The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn’t have a space programme,” the sci-fi author Larry Niven once said. Thankfully, we humans do – and its full of people like Ian Carnelli, who wants to save us from the same fate.
Carnelli, an aerospace engineer at the European Space Agency, leads a team of scientists and engineers working on the Hera spacecraft. It’s designed to work together with another probe, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test, to study the effects of crashing into an asteroid and attempting to nudge it off course.
Despite what you may have seen in Hollywood blockbusters, the risk of a deadly asteroid sneaking up on Earth and wiping us all out is extremely low – climate change, just to take one example, is a much bigger threat to humanity.
But that doesn’t mean that the risk is zero. In 2013, a meteor smashed into the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia and exploded, causing numerous injuries. Further back, the 1908 Tunguska impact in Siberia, Russia wiped out 80 million trees. That’s why we need people like Carnelli to watch out for us – and you can watch him, on the Cosmos Stage at New Scientist Live on 22 September.
New Scientist Live is our award-winning festival of ideas and discoveries. The four-day event will feature more than 120 speakers giving thought-provoking talks on everything from the nature of time to the search for life elsewhere in the universe.