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Potential near-Earth objects

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Leiden astronomers discover potential near-Earth objects


Three Leiden astronomers have shown that some asteroids that are considered harmless for now, can collide with Earth in the future. They did their research with the help of an artificial neural network. The results have been accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

arrow3.gif  Read More: Leiden University


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What can we do to protect ourselves?

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1 hour ago, Crikey said:

What can we do to protect ourselves?

There are all sorts of proposed ideas, depending on how much warning we have and how large the asteroid is.

The most obvious method is to nuke it. If the asteroid was blasted into small enough fragments then most would miss and the rest would burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. 

There is a problem with this approach however. If the asteroid is not broken into small enough pieces then it could result in multiple impacts from large fragments. This could actually be more devastating than a single impact.

If there are decades or centuries of warning (and there no large asteroids on a collision course with Earth in the next century) then it may be possible to gradually change the orbit of an asteroid so that it no longer poses a threat.

Many different ideas have been put forward, including detonating nuclear weapons above the surface of the asteroid. This would vaporise surface material and act like a rocket thrusters. 

Another suggestion is to fire large, white, paintballs at a small, specific region of the asteroid. The white are will reflect photons of light, imparting a small thrust as it does so. Over a few decades this will change the orbit of the asteroid enough that it will no longer poses a threat. 

Yet another suggestion is to place rockets on the surface of the asteroid and manoeuvre it into a new orbit. A variation of this is to use a mass driver. A mass driver takes material from the asteroid and launches it into space, acting like a rocket thruster as it does so.

Another proposal is a gravity tractor. This places a small spacecraft near the asteroid. Although small, the spacecraft will have enough of a gravitational attraction that over a period of years it will alter the orbit of the asteroid.

NASA and ESA intend to send a probe each to the double asteroid Didymos. NASA will then test a kinetic impact method for deflecting asteroids. The DART spacecraft will impact Didymos' small moon. Measurements will then be taken to see how much it is reflected.

All of these methods are still hypothetical. There is no asteroid defence system yet, but all of these methods are within our technological capabilities. 


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