The surface of an asteroid may not be quite as stable a place to land a spacecraft as previously thought.
NASA's current manned space exploration objective is to send humans to an asteroid as a stepping stone towards a mission to Mars, however in order to do so it will be necessary to step foot on the surface of one - something that has never been attempted before. Microgravity experiments conducted to simulate what might happen however have started to reveal some troubling details relating to the unstable nature of the rubble and dust the astronauts would be walking on.
To a far greater extent than on the Earth, loose particles in microgravity have the potential to turn in to an avalanche very quickly, indicating that the surface would be less than stable. "A lander touching down on the surface on one side of a small, rubble-pile asteroid could perhaps cause an avalanche on the other side, by long-range transmission of forces through chains," said researcher Dr Naomi Murdoch.
"Results from a microgravity experiment suggest that the rubble and dust covering asteroids and comets can feel changes in force-chains between particles over much larger distances than on Earth, making these surfaces less stable than previously imagined."
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