It might sound like courtroom humour, but in our litigious day and age, particularly in the US, lawyers are apparently trying to figure out who to sue in the event of an asteroid impact.
While the fact that a court battle is even being considered a reasonable undertaking in the wake of an extinction-level event leaves most of us dumbfounded, experts are claiming it makes more sense than you’d think.
An incoming asteroid could even lead to a global dispute, according to Cosmos:
“One problem is what would happen if one country, worried about protecting its own citizens, attempted to deflect the asteroid, screwed up and accidentally dumped it on a neighbour”.
Cosmos contacted David Koplow of Georgetown University's law centre, who said space law is based on the principle of strict liability, with a party found liable for an incident without a conclusive means of determining fault.
In tort law, the claimant only needs to prove the event occurred and point to a common sense cause that may not have anything to do with the defendants directly.
“The concept is that space activities are hazardous and therefore the harm should not fall on an innocent bystander,” said Koplow.
A nation hit by an asteroid might see it as an attack by a foe, and retaliate.
“[It] could look like the damage of a nuclear attack,” says Seth Baum, the executive director of the Global Risk Institute, a US-based think tank. “So the prospect [of] a counterattack seems like something worth taking seriously.”
In late April, scientists and emergency managers convened in Washington for the 2019 Planetary Defense Conference to participate in a biannual asteroid impact exercise.
Run by NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office as a means of exploring countermeasures against an asteroid hit, the simulated drill indicated that participating scientists and engineers still have a long way to go before they boast the means of deflecting a killer asteroid.
Saving the planet from asteroids: Planetary Defense Conference, including @MIT's Richard Binzel, explored potential threats, how authorities might react to one headed here, and to what extent space missions and evacuation plans might mitigate the damage.https://t.co/ZfDDIm51Cp pic.twitter.com/tkx9Jg17u5— MIT EAPS (@eapsMIT) May 8, 2019
Another colourful example cited by Cosmos is Planetary Resources, a US-based company looking to mine precious metals and minerals from asteroids.
Cosmos spoke with Chris Lewicki, a former NASA engineer and Planetary Resources' current chief engineer, who pointed out that mining these giant rocks isn’t a far-off fantasy scenario.
If you believe NASA, or TechCrunch, this is potentially a multi-trillion dollar market, with some asteroids listed on Asterank valued at above $100 trillion dollars.
However, in the event a pioneer-like, space age gold rush becoming a reality, who is to say it wouldn’t cause asteroid-size fragments to come raining down to wipe some city off the face of the earth? That, in turn, might offer attorneys a gold rush of their own.
Most people will assume this is the stuff of science fiction and isn't likely to happen in their lifetime, but, as Cosmos argues, every breakthrough was at some point just a crazy idea.