Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Revised asteroid scale aids understanding of impact risk

13.04.2005


Goal is to assuage public’s concerns about a potential doomsday collision

Astronomers led by an MIT professor have revised the scale used to assess the threat of asteroids and comets colliding with Earth to better communicate those risks with the public. The overall goal is to provide easy-to-understand information to assuage concerns about a potential doomsday collision with our planet.

The Torino scale, a risk-assessment system similar to the Richter scale used for earthquakes, was adopted by a working group of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 1999 at a meeting in Torino, Italy. On the scale, zero means virtually no chance of collision, while 10 means certain global catastrophe.



"The idea was to create a simple system conveying clear, consistent information about near-Earth objects [NEOs]," or asteroids and comets that appear to be heading toward the planet, said Richard Binzel, a professor in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and the creator of the scale.

Some critics, however, said that the original Torino scale was actually scaring people, "the opposite of what was intended," said Binzel. Hence the revisions.

"For a newly discovered NEO, the revised scale still ranks the impact hazard from 0 to 10, and the calculations that determine the hazard level are still exactly the same," Binzel said. The difference is that the wording for each category now better describes the attention or response merited for each.

For example, in the original scale NEOs of level 2-4 were described as "meriting concern." The revised scale describes objects with those rankings as "meriting attention by astronomers"--not necessarily the public.

Equally important in the revisions, says Binzel, "is the emphasis on how continued tracking of an object is almost always likely to reduce the hazard level to 0, once sufficient data are obtained." The general process of classifying NEO hazards is roughly analogous to hurricane forecasting. Predictions of a storm’s path are updated as more and more tracking data are collected.

According to Dr. Donald K. Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program Office, "The revisions in the Torino Scale should go a long way toward assuring the public that while we cannot always immediately rule out Earth impacts for recently discovered near-Earth objects, additional observations will almost certainly allow us to do so."

The highest Torino level ever given an asteroid was a 4 last December, with a 2 percent chance of hitting Earth in 2029. And after extended tracking of the asteroid’s orbit, it was reclassified to level 0, effectively no chance of collision, "the outcome correctly emphasized by level 4 as being most likely," Binzel said.

"It is just a matter of the scale becoming more well known and understood. Just as there is little or no reason for public concern over a magnitude 3 earthquake, there is little cause for public attention for NEO close encounters having low values on the Torino scale." He notes that an object must reach level 8 on the scale before there is a certainty of an impact capable of causing even localized destruction.

The Torino scale was developed because astronomers are spotting more and more NEOs through projects like the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research project at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. "There’s no increase in the number of asteroids out there or how frequently they encounter our planet. What’s changed is our awareness of them," Binzel notes.

As a result, astronomers debated whether they should keep potential NEO collisions secret or "be completely open with what we know when we know it," Binzel said. The IAU working group, of which Binzel is secretary, resoundingly decided on the latter.

The revised wording of the scale was published last fall in a chapter of "Mitigation of Hazardous Comets and Asteroids" (Cambridge University Press). The revisions were undertaken through consultation with astronomers worldwide for nearly a year before being published.

Binzel concludes that "the chance of something hitting the Earth and having a major impact is very unlikely. But although unlikely, it is still not impossible. The only way to be certain of no asteroid impacts in the forecast is to keep looking."

Elizabeth Thomson | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.mit.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht First Juno science results supported by University of Leicester's Jupiter 'forecast'
26.05.2017 | University of Leicester

nachricht Measured for the first time: Direction of light waves changed by quantum effect
24.05.2017 | Vienna University of Technology

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can the immune system be boosted against Staphylococcus aureus by delivery of messenger RNA?

Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....

Im Focus: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

How herpesviruses win the footrace against the immune system

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

Water forms 'spine of hydration' around DNA, group finds

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

First Juno science results supported by University of Leicester's Jupiter 'forecast'

26.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>