How to deflect an asteroid

26 Février, 2020, 16:52 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • MIT Develops Guide to Deflect Killer Asteroids

Rather, MIT researchers have devised a decision map to look into the best kind of mission that would deflect an asteroid.

As reported by SciTechDaily, this new decision method "takes into account an asteroid's mass and momentum, its proximity to a gravitational keyhole, [the small window in which a planet's gravity could alter an orbit of an asteroid to cause it to collide with the planet on a future orbital pass, ] and the amount of warning time that scientists have of an impending collision - all of which have degrees of uncertainty, which the researchers also factor in to identify the most successful mission for a given asteroid". The "Keyhole" refers to a gravitational field that all but guarantees an object will collide with the earth once it has been entered.

Researchers have applied this method to Apophis and Bennu, near-Earth asteroids that are targeted by OSIRIS-REx, a NASA operational mission that attempts to bring a sample of Bennu's surface to our planet by 2023. Its like a preemptive strike, with less mess.”.

"Does it matter if the probability of success of a mission is 99.9 percent or only 90 percent?" If these asteroids get nudged or their trajectories slightly change, they could end up on a direct collision course with the planet. "When it comes to deflecting a potential planet-killer, you bet it does", said co-author Olivier de Weck, an MIT professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems. “Therefore we have to be smarter when wedesign missions as a function of the level of uncertainty.

Another involved dispatching a "scout" before the projectile, to measure the asteroid and advise scientists on what type of projectile to resort to. The third consists of two halves: a scout and small impactor to potentially deflect the asteroid in the first phase, and then a second larger impactor to make completely sure the asteroid is no threat.

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The tests ran on Bennu, and Apophis turned out to be very efficient. With less than one year of notice, it's unlikely we could do anything to stop an asteroid from passing through a keyhole. That's another reason why Apophis and Bennu were considered, their gravitational keyhole locations are known by scientists.For instance with Apophis, the scientists found that if it passes through its keyhole within one Earth year or less, it may be too late, even for the impactor strategy to work.

“Even a main impactor may not be able to reach the asteroid within this timeframe, ” Paek says.

If another asteroid did approach, "All we have to do is change its speed a little faster or a little slower so that when it crosses Earth's orbit, it crosses either in front of us or behind us", Dr. Lori Glaze, director of planetary science at NASA, told CBS News a year ago. Like other asteroids that belong to this group, 2020 BW13 follows a unsafe orbit that occasionally intersects Earth's path as it makes its way around the Sun.

"It doesn't really keep me up at night", Glaze said.

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