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11 Amazing Letters from Nobel Laureates

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1. "Nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses."

Albert Einstein is arguably the most famous scientist of all time, and father of the world's most famous equation. For his work in theoreticel physics ("especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect," according to the committee), Einstein received the 1921 Nobel Prize for Physics. His contribution to modern science can hardly be overstated, but in 1954, in a handwritten letter to the Jewish philosopher Eric B. Gutkind, Einstein would discuss his views on something completely different. The so-called "God Letter," in which Einstein shares his opinion on religion, is currently on auction. Bidding is at 3 million dollars, and closes next week. An excerpt, as translated from German by Joan Stambaugh:

The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything 'chosen' about them.

In general I find it painful that you claim a privileged position and try to defend it by two walls of pride, an external one as a man and an internal one as a Jew. As a man you claim, so to speak, a dispensation from causality otherwise accepted, as a Jew the privilege of monotheism. But a limited causality is no longer a causality at all, as our wonderful Spinoza recognized with all incision, probably as the first one. And the animistic interpretations of the religions of nature are in principle not annulled by monopolization. With such walls we can only attain a certain self-deception, but our moral efforts are not furthered by them. On the contrary.

Now that I have quite openly stated our differences in intellectual convictions it is still clear to me that we are quite close to each other in essential things, i.e; in our evaluations of human behavior. What separates us are only intellectual 'props' and 'rationalization' in Freud's language. Therefore I think that we would understand each other quite well if we talked about concrete things.

With friendly thanks and best wishes,

Yours, A. Einstein

2. "I count meeting your Teacher as one of the great experiences of my life."

Perkins School for the Blind Archive

Author and humanitarian Pearl S. Buck won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938, "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces." Her most famous work, The Good Earth, was the best-selling novel in the U.S. in both 1931 and 1932, and won the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel. One Wednesday in late October 1936, Buck sat down to write a letter to another inspiring well-known woman who had just lost her companion and teacher, Anne Sullivan.

Dear Helen Keller:

I am one of many thousands, I know, who are thinking of you today with especial affection and sympathy. I count meeting your Teacher as one of the great experiences of my life - one was instantly impressed with the sense of greatness in her presence. What a glorious life you and she made together! How much you both achieved for the world, and what immense strength you have given to us all! I know of no human source so full of inspiration to others as the story of your life with her.

Please, then, accept my deepest admiration, my faith in you that you are able, now, as you always have been, to live triumphantly. I know what this means to you - this parting - I know a little of what this must mean, rather- but I have no fears for you. And will you count me among your friends now more than ever, and if ever I can help you, let me know - I shall be so glad. And when you feel able, I should like to come and see you.
Please remember me kindly and warmly to dear Polly Thomson.

Faithfully yours,
Pearl S. Buck
(Mrs. Richard J. Walsh)
480 Park. Ave.
New York City

3. "Their work has unintentionally caused our present dangers."

Bertrand Russell was one of the 20th century's greatest minds, but pinning him to just one field is a bit difficult. His work has influenced linguistics, mathematics, computer science, philosophy, logic, and more, and because of his strong campaign for nuclear disarmament and anti-war activism, he is also considered one of the century's foremost humanitarians. In 1950, the Swedish Academy gave him the Prize in Literature "in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought." (It was a nice compromise.) In the following letter to fellow Nobel laureate Albert Einstein, Russell proposed a joint effort against nuclear proliferation, which would eventually become the Russell-Einstein Manifesto:

5 April, 1955.
41, Queen's Road,
Richmond, Surrey.

Dear Einstein,

I have been turning over in my mind, and discussing with various people, the best steps for giving effect to the feeling against war among the great majority of men of science. I think the first step should be a statement by men of the highest eminence, communists and anti-Communists, Western and Eastern, about the disasters to be expected in a war. I enclose a draft of such a statement, and I very much hope that you will be willing to sign it. I enclose also a list of those whom I am asking to sign. If sufficient signatures are obtained, I think the next step should be an international scientific congress which should be invited by the signatories to pass a resolution on the lines of the draft resolution which I enclose. I hope that in this way both Governments and public opinion can be made aware of the seriousness of the situation.

On the whole, I have thought that it was better at this stage to approach only men of science and not men in other fields, such as Arnold Toynbee whom you mentioned. Scientists have, and feel that they have, a special responsibility, since their work has unintentionally caused our present dangers. Moreover, widening the field would make it very much more difficult to steer clear of politics.

Yours sincerely,
(Signed, 'Bertrand Russell')

In response, Einstein was brief:

Dear Bertrand Russell,

Thank you for your letter of April 5. I am gladly willing to sign your excellent statement. I also agree with your choice of the prospective signers.

With kind regards,
A. Einstein.

This was the last letter he ever wrote. He died 13 days later on April 18. The official Manifesto was released July 9, 1955.

4. "If there is anywhere else I shall be on the look out for you."

Winston Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 "for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values," making him the only British Prime Minister to receive the award. (In 1963, he would also become the first Honorary Citizen of the United States.) In July, 1915, long before any of this took place, a 40-year-old Churchill wrote a letter to his wife, Clementine, which was sealed and marked with instructions to deliver the note to her in the event of his death. He then reenlisted in the Army.

Do not grieve for me too much. I am a spirit confident of my rights. Death is only an incident & not the most important which happens to us in this state of being. On the whole, especially since I met you my darling one I have been happy, & you have taught me how noble a woman's heart can be. If there is anywhere else I shall be on the look out for you. Meanwhile look forward, feel free, rejoice in life, cherish the children, guard my memory. God bless you.

Good bye.

25 years later, Churchill would be Prime Minister, and the letter long forgotten.

5. "Jesus it's marvellous to tell other people how to write."

Papa Hemingway picked up his Nobel for Literature in 1954, following a series of harrowing injuries and brushes with death. He opted out of traveling to Stockholm to receive his award, and instead sent a short speech along to be read in his absence. (You can listen to it here, as read by John C. Cabot, the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden.) Twenty years before, though, Hemingway was writing much longer missives, in this case to longtime friend and confidante, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Soon after publication of Tender Is the Night, Fitzgerald wrote Hemingway to ask his opinion on the work. This was his reply, which is in turn critical and awash with invaluable advice for anyone who wants to write a book. (Note that the great Hemingway was a hit-or-misspeller, and had a little homonym confusion to boot.)

(Transcript courtesy of Letters of Note)

Key West
28 May 1934

Dear Scott:

I liked it and I didn't. It started off with that marvelous description of Sara and Gerald (goddamn it Dos took it with him so I can't refer to it. So if I make any mistakes—). Then you started fooling with them, making them come from things they didn't come from, changing them into other people and you can't do that, Scott. If you take real people and write about them you cannot give them other parents than they have (they are made by their parents and what happens to them) you cannot make them do anything they would not do. You can take you or me or Zelda or Pauline or Hadley or Sara or Gerald but you have to keep them the same and you can only make them do what they would do. You can't make one be another. Invention is the finest thing but you cannot invent anything that would not actually happen.

That is what we are supposed to do when we are at our best—make it all up—but make it up so truly that later it will happen that way.

Goddamn it you took liberties with peoples' pasts and futures that produced not people but damned marvellously faked case histories. You, who can write better than anybody can, who are so lousy with talent that you have to—the hell with it. Scott for gods sake write and write truly no matter who or what it hurts but do not make these silly compromises. You could write a fine book about Gerald and Sara for instance if you knew enough about them and they would not have any feeling, except passing, if it were true.

There were wonderful places and nobody else nor none of the boys can write a good one half as good reading as one that doesn't come out by you, but you cheated too damned much in this one. And you don't need to.

In the first place I've always claimed that you can't think. All right, we'll admit you can think. But say you couldn't think; then you ought to write, invent, out of what you know and keep the people's antecedants straight. Second place, a long time ago you stopped listening except to the answers to your own questions. You had good stuff in too that it didn't need. That's what dries a writer up (we all dry up. That's no insult to you in person) not listening. That is where it all comes from. Seeing, listening. You see well enough. But you stop listening.

It's a lot better than I say. But it's not as good as you can do.

You can study Clausewitz in the field and economics and psychology and nothing else will do you any bloody good once you are writing. We are like lousy damned acrobats but we make some mighty fine jumps, bo, and they have all these other acrobats that won't jump.

For Christ sake write and don't worry about what the boys will say nor whether it will be a masterpiece nor what. I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket. You feel you have to publish crap to make money to live and let live. All write but if you write enough and as well as you can there will be the same amount of masterpiece material (as we say at Yale). You can't think well enough to sit down and write a deliberate masterpiece and if you could get rid of Seldes and those guys that nearly ruined you and turn them out as well as you can and let the spectators yell when it is good and hoot when it is not you would be all right.

Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it—don't cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist—but don't think anything is of any importance because it happens to you or anyone belonging to you.
About this time I wouldn't blame you if you gave me a burst. Jesus it's marvellous to tell other people how to write, live, die etc.

I'd like to see you and talk about things with you sober. You were so damned stinking in N.Y. we didn't get anywhere. You see, Bo, you're not a tragic character. Neither am I. All we are is writers and what we should do is write. Of all people on earth you needed discipline in your work and instead you marry someone who is jealous of your work, wants to compete with you and ruins you. It's not as simple as that and I thought Zelda was crazy the first time I met her and you complicated it even more by being in love with her and, of course you're a rummy. But you're no more of a rummy than Joyce is and most good writers are. But Scott, good writers always come back. Always. You are twice as good now as you were at the time you think you were so marvellous. You know I never thought so much of Gatsby at the time. You can write twice as well now as you ever could. All you need to do is write truly and not care about what the fate of it is.
Go on and write.

Anyway I'm damned fond of you and I'd like to have a chance to talk sometimes. We had good times talking. Remember that guy we went out to see dying in Neuilly? He was down here this winter. Damned nice guy Canby Chambers. Saw a lot of Dos. He's in good shape now and he was plenty sick this time last year. How is Scotty and Zelda? Pauline sends her love. We're all fine. She's going up to Piggott for a couple of weeks with Patrick. Then bring Bumby back. We have a fine boat. Am going good on a very long story. Hard one to write.

Always your friend

[Written on envelope: What about The Sun also and the movies? Any chance? I dint put in about the good parts. You know how good they are. You're write about the book of stories. I wanted to hold it for more. That last one I had in Cosmopolitan would have made it.]

6. "I am shocked and griefstricken."

Martin Luther King, Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his efforts against racial inequality through nonviolent methods. He corresponded frequently with President John F. Kennedy, and revealed in his autobiography that he had voted for JFK in 1960, though he never issued a public endorsement. Immediately following news of Kennedy's assassination, King released the following brief letter of condolence.

If you're interested in reading the many letters and telegrams passed between the president and MLK, the King Center archives have released thousands of documents, including original speech and sermon notes.

7. "Bippity bippity bippity off into the bushes."

Theodore Roosevelt is almost always described with strong adjectives: Exuberant, vigorous, outspoken, abrupt. But you don't often hear about his softer side, especially with his favorite son, Quentin. Two years before he would win the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War, he was doodling rabbits and writing letters like this one to 6-year-old "Quenty-Quee."

Theodore Roosevelt Center

Many of Teddy's letters were collected in Theodore Roosevelt's Letters to His Children, published in 1919. He was the first of only three U.S. Presidents to be awarded the Peace Prize while still in office, along with Woodrow Wilson and Barack Obama.

8. "He is unable to accept your kind invitation."

After Frances Crick and James Watson published the double-helix model of DNA in 1953, and especially after sharing the 1962 Nobel in Medicine (along with Maurice Wilkins) for their discoveries, the men found themselves bombarded with requests. Crick, ever the scientist, drew up these handy form response cards, which he sent to almost everyone who wrote to him through the 1960s. The options "are a faithful reflection" of the most-received requests.

The Crick Foundation, via io9

9. "One of the greatest enemies of the human race."

Linus Pauling is the only person to be awarded two unshared Nobel Prizes, which he received in 1954 for Chemistry and 1962 for Peace. As one of the founders of quantum chemistry and molecular biology, a staunch activist who was "against all warfare as a means of solving international conflicts," it's unsurprising that, just months before the Cuban Missile Crisis, Pauling wrote a strongly-worded letter to President Kennedy about nuclear weapons testing:

1 March 1962 Night Letters Durham, NC
President John F. Kennedy, White House:
Are you going to give an order that will cause you to go down in history as one of the most immoral men of all time and one of the greatest enemies of the human race? In a letter to the New York Times, I state that nuclear tests duplicating the Soviet 1961 tests would seriously damage over 20 million unborn children, including those caused to have gross physical or mental defect and also the still births and embryonic, neonatal and childhood deaths from the radioactive fission products and carbon 14. Are you going to be guilty of this monstrous immorality, matching that of the Soviet leaders, for the political purpose of increasing the still imposing lead of the United States over the Soviet Union in nuclear weapons technology?
(Signed) Linus Pauling
To Dr. Jerome Wiesner, Mr. McGeorge Bundy, Dr. Glenn Seaborg
I have sent the following telegram to President Kennedy. (quote it). Linus Pauling

10. "It is painful to me that these strange, sly obliquities should be ascribed to me."

In 1943, Alfred Hitchcock approached John Steinbeck about writing a screenplay for him. Steinbeck was delighted, having just returned home from war with shrapnel wounds and eager, as always, to be working on something. He churned out the first draft of Lifeboat, handed it over to Hitchcock and team, and began working on his next project. But when the film was ready in January 1944, Steinbeck was less than pleased with the changes made to his work. His letter to 20th Century Fox says it best:

New York
January 10, 1944

Dear Sirs:

I have just seen the film Lifeboat, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and billed as written by me. While in many ways the film is excellent there are one or two complaints I would like to make. While it is certainly true that I wrote a script for Lifeboat, it is not true that in that script as in the film there were any slurs against organized labor nor was there a stock comedy Negro. On the contrary there was an intelligent and thoughtful seaman who knew realistically what he was about. And instead of the usual colored travesty of the half comic and half pathetic Negro there was a Negro of dignity, purpose and personality. Since this film occurs over my name, it is painful to me that these strange, sly obliquities should be ascribed to me.

John Steinbeck

A month later, Steinbeck wrote to his agent, requesting that his name be removed entirely from the film's credits. His request was ignored.

11. "Long may the Grand Master live."

Letters of Note
He wasn't a winner, but he did found the Nobel Prizes, so Alfred deserves a little nod in the list. Here's the translation of a note he sent by telegram to Victor Hugo in 1885, in honor of the author's 85th birthday:

Victor Hugo

Long may the Grand Master live, to charm the world and spread his ideas of universal charity.

A. Nobel

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
15 Riveting Facts About Alan Turing
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

More than six decades after his death, Alan Turing’s life remains a point of fascination—even for people who have no interest in his groundbreaking work in computer science. He has been the subject of a play and an opera, and referenced in multiple novels and numerous musical albums. The Benedict Cumberbatch film about his life, The Imitation Game, received eight Oscar nominations. But just who was he in real life? Here are 15 facts you should know about Alan Turing, who was born on this day in 1912.


Turing essentially pioneered the idea of computer memory. In 1936, Turing published a seminal paper called “On Computable Numbers” [PDF], which The Washington Post has called “the founding document of the computer age.” In the philosophical article, he hypothesized that one day, we could build machines that could compute any problem that a human could, using 0s and 1s. Turing proposed single-task machines called Turing machines that would be capable of solving just one type of math problem, but a “universal computer” would be able to tackle any kind of problem thrown at it by storing instructional code in the computer’s memory. Turing’s ideas about memory storage and using a single machine to carry out all tasks laid the foundation for what would become the digital computer.

In 1945, while working for the UK’s National Physical Laboratory, he came up with the Automatic Computing Machine, the first digital computer with stored programs. Previous computers didn’t have electric memory storage, and had to be manually rewired to switch between different programs.


Turing began working at Bletchley Park, Britain’s secret headquarters for its codebreakers during World War II, in 1939. By one estimate, his work there may have cut the war short by up to two years. He’s credited with saving millions of lives.

Turing immediately got to work designing a codebreaking machine called the Bombe (an update of a previous Polish machine) with the help of his colleague Gordon Welchman. The Bombe shortened the steps required in decoding, and 200 of them were built for British use over the course of the war. They allowed codebreakers to decipher up to 4000 messages a day.

His greatest achievement was cracking the Enigma, a mechanical device used by the German army to encode secure messages. It proved nearly impossible to decrypt without the correct cipher, which the German forces changed every day. Turing worked to decipher German naval communications at a point when German U-boats were sinking ships carrying vital supplies across the Atlantic between Allied nations. In 1941, Turing and his team managed to decode the German Enigma messages, helping to steer Allied ships away from the German submarine attacks. In 1942, he traveled to the U.S. to help the Americans with their own codebreaking work.


Early on, Bletchley Park’s operations were hampered by a lack of resources, but pleas for better staffing were ignored by government officials. So, Alan Turing and several other codebreakers at Bletchley Park went over their heads to write directly to Prime Minister Winston Churchill. One of the codebreakers from Bletchley Park delivered the letter by hand in October 1941.

“Our reason for writing to you direct is that for months we have done everything that we possibly can through the normal channels, and that we despair of any early improvement without your intervention,” they wrote to Churchill [PDF]. “No doubt in the long run these particular requirements will be met, but meanwhile still more precious months will have been wasted, and as our needs are continually expanding we see little hope of ever being adequately staffed.”

In response, Churchill immediately fired off a missive to his chief of staff: “Make sure they have all they want on extreme priority and report to me that this had been done.”


Like many geniuses, Turing was not without his eccentricities. He wore a gas mask while riding his bike to combat his allergies. Instead of fixing his bike’s faulty chain, he learned exactly when to dismount to secure it in place before it slipped off. He was known around Bletchley Park for chaining his tea mug to a radiator to prevent it from being taken by other staffers.


Though he was considered an average student, Turing was dedicated enough to his schooling that when a general strike prevented him from taking the train to his first day at his new elite boarding school, the 14-year-old rode his bike the 62 miles instead.


Turing started running as a schoolboy and continued throughout his life, regularly running the 31 miles between Cambridge and Ely while he was a fellow at King’s College. During World War II, he occasionally ran the 40 miles between London and Bletchley Park for meetings.

He almost became an Olympic athlete, too. He came in fifth place at a qualifying marathon for the 1948 Olympics with a 2-hour, 46-minute finish (11 minutes slower than the 1948 Olympic marathon winner). However, a leg injury held back his athletic ambitions that year.

Afterward, he continued running for the Walton Athletic Club, though, and served as its vice president. ”I have such a stressful job that the only way I can get it out of my mind is by running hard,” he once told the club’s secretary. “It's the only way I can get some release."


In 1952, Turing was arrested after reporting a burglary in his home. In the course of the investigation, the police discovered Turing’s relationship with another man, Arnold Murray. Homosexual relationships were illegal in the UK at the time, and he was charged with “gross indecency.” He pled guilty on the advice of his lawyer, and opted to undergo chemical castration instead of serving time in jail.


In 2009, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a public apology to Turing on behalf of the British government. “Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted under homophobic laws were treated terribly,” Brown said. "This recognition of Alan's status as one of Britain's most famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality and long overdue." Acknowledging Britain’s debt to Turing for his vital contributions to the war effort, he announced, “on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan's work I am very proud to say: we're sorry, you deserved so much better."

His conviction was not actually pardoned, though, until 2013, when he received a rare royal pardon from the Queen of England.


Turing was only one of the many men who suffered after being prosecuted for their homosexuality under 19th-century British indecency laws. Homosexuality was decriminalized in the UK in 1967, but the previous convictions were never overturned. Turing’s Law, which went into effect in 2017, posthumously pardoned men who had been convicted for having consensual gay sex before the repeal. According to one of the activists who campaigned for the mass pardons, around 15,000 of the 65,000 gay men convicted under the outdated law are still alive.


There is still a bit of mystery surrounding Turing’s death at the age of 41. Turing died of cyanide poisoning, in what is widely believed to have been a suicide. Turing’s life had been turned upside down by his arrest. He lost his job and his security clearance. By order of the court, he had to take hormones intended to “cure” his homosexuality, which caused him to grow breasts and made him impotent. But not everyone is convinced that he died by suicide.

In 2012, Jack Copeland, a Turing scholar, argued that the evidence used to declare Turing’s death a suicide in 1954 would not be sufficient to close the case today. The half-eaten apple by his bedside, thought to be the source of his poisoning, was never tested for cyanide. There was still a to-do list on his desk, and his friends told the coroner at the time that he had seemed in good spirits. Turing’s mother, in fact, maintained that he probably accidentally poisoned himself while experimenting with the chemical in his home laboratory. (He was known to taste chemicals while identifying them, and could be careless with safety precautions.)

That line of inquiry is far more tame than some others, including one author’s theory that he was murdered by the FBI to cover up information that would have been damaging to the U.S.


Alan Turing was a well-respected mathematician in his time, but his contemporaries didn’t know the full extent of his contributions to the world. Turing’s work breaking the Enigma machine remained classified long after his death, meaning that his contributions to the war effort and to mathematics were only partially known to the public during his lifetime. It wasn’t until the 1970s that his instrumental role in the Allies' World War II victory became public with the declassification of the Enigma story. The actual techniques Turing used to decrypt the messages weren’t declassified until 2013, when two of his papers from Bletchley Park were released to the British National Archives.


Can a machine fool a human into thinking they are chatting with another person? That’s the crux of the Turing test, an idea developed by Turing in 1950 regarding how to measure artificial intelligence. Turing argued in his paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” [PDF] that the idea of machines “thinking” is not a useful way to evaluate artificial intelligence. Instead, Turing suggests “the imitation game,” a way to assess how successfully a machine can imitate human behavior. The best measure of artificial intelligence, then, is whether or not a computer can convince a person that it is human.


As technology has progressed, some feel the Turing test is no longer a useful way to measure artificial intelligence. It’s cool to think about computers being able to talk just like a person, but new technology is opening up avenues for computers to express intelligence in other, more useful ways. A robot’s intelligence isn’t necessarily defined by whether it can fake being human—self-driving cars or programs that can mimic sounds based on images might not pass the Turing test, but they certainly have intelligence.


Inspired by the chess champions he worked with at Bletchley Park, Alan Turing created an algorithm for an early version of computer chess—although at that time, there was no computer to try it out on. Created with paper and pencil, the Turochamp program was designed to think two moves ahead, picking out the best moves possible. In 2012, Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov played against Turing’s algorithm, beating it in 16 moves. “I would compare it to an early caryou might laugh at them but it is still an incredible achievement," Kasparov said in a statement after the match-up.


In 2012, Monopoly came out with an Alan Turing edition to celebrate the centennial of his birth. Turing had enjoyed playing Monopoly during his life, and the Turing-themed Monopoly edition was designed based on a hand-drawn board created in 1950 by his friend William Newman. Instead of hotels and houses, it featured huts and blocks inspired by Bletchley Park, and included never-before-published photos of Turing. (It’s hard to find, but there are still a few copies of the game on Amazon.)

NASA Has a Plan to Stop the Next Asteroid That Threatens Life on Earth

An asteroid colliding catastrophically with Earth within your lifetime is unlikely, but not out of the question. According to NASA, objects large enough to threaten civilization hit the planet once every few million years or so. Fortunately, NASA has a plan for dealing with the next big one when it does arrive, Forbes reports.

According to the National Near-Earth Object Preparedness Strategy and Action Plan [PDF] released by the White House on June 21, there are a few ways to handle an asteroid. The first is using a gravity tractor to pull it from its collision course. It may sound like something out of science fiction, but a gravity tractor would simply be a large spacecraft flying beside the asteroid and using its gravitational pull to nudge it one way or the other.

Another option would be to fly the spacecraft straight into the asteroid: The impact would hopefully be enough to alter the object's speed and trajectory. And if the asteroid is too massive to be stopped by a spacecraft, the final option is to go nuclear. A vehicle carrying a nuclear device would be launched at the space rock with the goal of either sending it in a different direction or breaking it up into smaller pieces.

Around 2021, NASA will test its plan to deflect an asteroid using a spacecraft, but even the most foolproof defense strategy will be worthless if we don’t see the asteroid coming. For that reason, the U.S. government will also be working on improving Near-Earth Object (NEO) detection, the technology NASA uses to track asteroids. About 1500 NEOs are already detected each year, and thankfully, most of them go completely unnoticed by the public.

[h/t Forbes]


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