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Russia plans to stop asteroid crashing to Earth

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(Colombo Lankapuvath January 01) – Russia wants to send a spacecraft to knock the large Apophis asteroid off a possible collision course with Earth.

The ambitious plan envisages the co-operation of Nasa, the European and Chinese space agencies to pull off a mission with echoes of a Hollywood blockbuster.

Anatoly Perminov, the head of Russia's space agency, said it would assess the difficulties of knocking the asteroid Apophis out of harm's way.

The 885-foot-wide asteroid was first discovered in 2004. Astronomers estimated the chances of it smashing into Earth in its first flyby in 2029 were as high as 1-in-37, but have since lowered their estimate.

Further studies ruled out the possibility of an impact in 2029, when the asteroid is expected to come no closer than 18,300 miles above Earth, but they indicated a small possibility of a hit on subsequent encounters.

In October, Nasa lowered the odds that Apophis could hit Earth to a 1-in-250,000 chance. But Mr Perminov said he still believed there was scientific evidence that the asteroid could pose a danger to humankind.

"People's lives are at stake. We should pay several hundred million dollars and build a system that would allow to prevent a collision, rather than sit and wait for it to happen and kill hundreds of thousands of people," he said.

Scientists have previously proposed sending a probe to circle around a dangerous asteroid to gradually change its trajectory. Others suggested sending a spacecraft to collide with the asteroid and alter its momentum, or using nuclear weapons to hit it, as in the films Deep Impact and Armageddon.

"Calculations show that it's possible to create a special purpose spacecraft within the time we have, which would help avoid the collision without destroying it [the asteroid] and without detonating any nuclear charges," said Mr Perminov said.

Boris Shustov, the director of the Institute of Astronomy under the Russian Academy of Sciences, hailed Perminov's statement as a signal that officials had come to recognize the danger posed by asteroids.

"Apophis is just a symbolic example, there are many other dangerous objects we know little about," he said, according to RIA Novosti news agency.

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