Bangalore: After the Moon and the Sun, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman S Somanath is looking at asteroids — not just to land on them, but to prepare defences against their possible catastrophic impacts on Earth.

The ISRO chief is eyeing opportunities to observe Asteroid 99942 Apophis — measuring 335 metres across and considered one of the most hazardous asteroids that could impact Earth — which is estimated to pass our planet at a dangerously close distance of less than 32,000 km on April 13, 2029.

“India should be able to observe this asteroid...Discussions are in the process on how ISRO can contribute, maybe by preparing an instrument for the mission or providing other kinds of support for what is jointly being done by JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA,” he said.

“If an asteroid hits Earth, the impact can be disastrous. We need to prepare for planetary defence. If a 100-metres diameter asteroid hits us, it can be fatal, an entire nation could be wiped out. If a 2 km diameter hits the Earth, the entire planet could be destroyed,” he said while inaugurating a workshop on Planetary Defence for students at the ISRO headquarters on Wednesday.

“In future, we will be able to land on an asteroid and study the possibility of its impact on Earth, and prepare for defence. We want to start by collaborating with other countries and organisations that have already developed some skills in this,” Somanath said.

As a spacefaring nation with the capabilities to land on the Moon and place a satellite in the Lagrange Point of the Sun, India is now keen to contribute to studying asteroids, he said.

“There are lakhs of asteroids in space, mostly between Mars and Jupiter. Despite being small in size, they possess huge amounts of energy. According to studies, the entire mass of all asteroids is less than three per cent of the Moon’s mass. Even that small mass travelling at huge velocities can create an impact,” he said, while emphasizing that while they pose a threat, they also offer opportunities for scientific exploration.

As per current data, there is no prediction of an asteroid hitting Earth in the next 100 years, but the scientific community needs to develop better technologies to track them. So far, until June 2022, a total of 1.32 crore asteroids have been identified, according to NASA.

(With Inputs From Agencies)