Published: Fri, February 21, 2020
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

MIT engineers have developed a method to divert potentially risky asteroids

MIT engineers have developed a method to divert potentially risky asteroids

The analysis points out there are two points at which we could attempt to stop an asteroid destined to hit Earth, one of which would be much easier but requires additional planning. While scientists later determined it should pass by safely both times, they are eager to come up with viable strategies for deflecting any future asteroids that threaten to come too close for comfort. Most importantly, they factored in an asteroids proximity to a gravitational keyhole, as well as the amount of time scientists have before an asteroid passes through the keyhole. That's simply a location in Earth's gravity field that pushes an asteroid into a collision course on its next orbit.

An MIT team led by former MIT graduate student Sung Wook Paek describes a "decision map" in a recently published investigation that would take into account the mass and relative momentum of an approaching asteroid, as well as the expected time that we have before it enters a so-called & # 39; keyhole & # 39;, basically a gravitational halo around Earth that, once entered, guarantees that the asteroid will collide with the planet.

In 2007, NASA concluded in a report submitted to the U.S. Congress that in the event that an asteroid were headed toward Earth, the most effective way to deflect it would be to launch a nuclear bomb into space. The main drawback here is that we need more data about the asteroid and its orbit. Apophis will pass near a keyhole in 2029, but it's not now predicted to hit us.

In a study published this month in the journal Acta Astronautica, researchers at MIT applied their hypothetical deflection methods to the astroids Apophis and Bennu, an asteroid now being targeted by a NASA mission to return a sample of its surface material to Earth in 2023.

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Bennu, one of the two objects used as a test case in the MIT study.

“A keyhole is like a door — once its open, the asteroid will impact Earth soon after, with high probability, ” Paek says.

The second best option was an object that could impact the asteroid by diverting it from its path. The exams confirmed that with 5 or extra years, one of the best course is to ship two scouts after which the projectile. According to the agency, this asteroid will fly past Earth on February 21 at 10:02 a.m. EST from a distance of 0.03512 astronomical units, which is equivalent to 3.3 million miles. If keyhole passage occurs within two to five years, there may be time to send one scout to measure the asteroid and tune the parameters of a larger projectile before sending the impactor up to divert the asteroid. The key to the plan is to be able to detect the object well in advance. It all goes as planned, a sample of Bennu will arrive on Earth in 2023.

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