Imagine that astronomers discovered a new comet, one that was an exact duplicate of the Chixculub object and was going hit the Earth in 30 years. Which would, if uninterrupted, exterminate the human race.
Let us also suppose that the numbers work out so that a hearty effort, something like the level of US war spending in WWII, but for decades, could stop it, by making and delivering enough hydrogen bombs to alter the orbit . We would need to design and build Orion ships, be frantically mining uranium ( and thorium), breeding plutonium and U-233, using lithium for bombs rather than batteries, like God intended. We’d be frantically building up heavy industry, making steel and building rockets, writing codes modeling hot dense matter rather than handling social media.
Sure, it all _sounds_ good, but we would also have people explaining that no one can really predict ballistic trajectories many years in advance (although we can, really) , talking about dodgy digital orreries, saying that the anomalous precession of the perihelion of Mercury’s orbit discredits the models (nope), that Orion ships might not work ( that would be bad !), that slight discrepancies in eclipse timing ( due to tidal slowing of the Earth’s rotation) prove that Fomenko was right. Or that, halfway through, having slightly altered the orbit, with a massive effort, proves that we really never really needed to do anything in the first place.
We’d have guys writing long-winded articles pointing out that Ptolemy’s model of the solar system was wrong, so how can anyone believe those that JPL puts out today ?( hat tip to SJ Gould and Cordelia Fine).
We’d have septuagenarians pointing out that by the time it hit, they’d probably be dead, so why should they care? We’d have philosophy professors arguing that the future doesn’t really ‘exist’.
People would make and share these kinds of falsehoods, creating their own information ecology, one made up fresh out of whole cloth – except for a few traditionalists, flat-Earthers and followers of Velikovsky. One full of lies obvious to everybody that ever studied the Kepler problem.. everybody who is anybody !
We’d have demented billionaires subsidizing hacks – hacks that told us whatever their paymasters wanted us to hear, told us that 100 million megatons wasn’t really that bad, or that it was probably our time and that in the long run good things, like the rise of the mammals, could flow from such a cleansing. We should ’embrace’ cosmic collisions, as a creative force. Some of the billionaires would end up believing the lies they paid for !
The Washington Post would warn us that fears of cosmic extermination might fuel racism and xenophobia. The New York Times would worry about the world being saved by the wrong people – people of color would not be playing much of a role, of course.
Still, we might manage to get the job done. There are ways.