In the summer, astronomers Discovered an asteroid the size of an airplaneIt’s large enough to potentially destroy a city and on course to crash into Earth.But no one saw the space rock until two days later rear It has overtaken our planet.
The asteroid, named 2023 NT1, passed by us at just a quarter of the distance from Earth to the moon. That’s too close for comfort. Astronomers did not intend to leave this case without an autopsy. They recently analyzed what went wrong and how we can better prepare to protect the planet from future impacts. New papers recently submitted Submit to preprint server arXiv.
We know from history that asteroids can cause world-shaking events and extinctions. what happened to dinosaurs. The researchers estimated that if NT1 were to hit Earth, it could have the energy of 4 to 80 intercontinental ballistic missiles. “NT1 in 2023 would have been much worse than NT1 in 2023.” Chelyabinsk air raid” says an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Barbara. philip rubinThe co-author of the new book mentioned a meteorite that exploded over a Russian city in 2013. Although it is devastating, it is “not an existential threat like the 10km direct hit that killed the previous occupants,” he said. I would add.
Asteroid monitoring system atlas, the Asteroid Earth Impact Final Warning System, a group of four telescopes located in Hawaii, Chile, and South Africa, discovered NT1 after the rock passed by. The whole purpose of ATLAS is to search the sky for space rocks that could threaten Earth. So how did we miss it while staring at the sky?
It turns out that Earth has what Bryn Bailey, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Barbara and lead author of the paper, calls a “blind spot.” Asteroids that come towards us from the direction of the sun are buried in the glare of the star closest to us. ” There’s also another way asteroids can sneak up on us. The smaller the asteroid, the harder it will be for telescopes to spot it, even if the rock comes from a part of the sky farther from the sun.
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“Currently, there are no planetary defense systems that can mitigate the short-term warning threat,” Bailey said. “Although there is no chance that NT1 will intercept Earth in the future, this is a reminder that we do not have complete situational awareness of all potential threats within our solar system.” they added. This leads to Lesson 1: Better detection methods are needed for planetary defense.
If we manage to detect an asteroid with warnings from several years ago, we might be able to redirect it using recently tested techniques. NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) missionHowever, for cases with few warnings, such as NT1, a different approach is required. That’s lesson two. Bailey et al. propose a method they call “Pulverize It” (PI).
PI planning is exactly what it sounds like. It breaks the asteroid into smaller pieces, making them large enough to either burn up in the atmosphere or fall to the ground as small, less dangerous stones. They do this by firing one or more rockets to send an array of small impactors into space. The impactor, a 6-foot-long, 6-inch-thick rod packed with explosives, would hit the asteroid like a buckshot, effectively dismantling it. “If we had intercepted it [NT1] “Significant damage could have been prevented even one day before the impact,” Rubin asserts.
It sounds simple enough, but some astronomers aren’t quite convinced. “Even if it doesn’t violate the laws of physics, I think the PI method is unrealistic,” says the astronomer at the University of California, Los Angeles. ned wright, was not involved in the new work. “Destroying a building by implosion using explosives requires weeks of testing and planning stages to ensure the explosives are in the right place and the timing is right. We aim to do all of this measuring, planning, and explosives placement within a minute or so before the asteroid hits the asteroid.”
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Whether you use a PI or another line of defense, it’s clear that you need to plan ahead. In addition to the vague threat of an asteroid coming out of nowhere, we have two specific and very dangerous events looming before us. Asteroid Apophis will approach in 2029and an approach from something even bigger benne (Recently sampled by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission) 2054, 2060, 2135.
“Humans now have the technology to reliably detect and defend Earth if they wanted to,” Rubin said. “And a lot of different people are working hard to make sure that happens.”