The uncertainty surrounding whether a meteorite impacted in South America recently highlights the need to know more about these pieces of natural space debris and their trajectories. ESA has always been interested in such endeavours and conducted a number of studies into how it might best help.
Those studies showed that it is probably the smaller pieces of rock, at most a few hundred metres across, rather than the larger ones that we should be more worried about for the time being. A worldwide network of astronomers is currently cataloguing most of the larger objects, those above 1 km in diameter. A number of survey telescopes have taken up the challenge to detect as many as 90 percent of all near Earth objects down to a size of 140 metres by around 2020. Only after this time will we know whether space-based observatories will be needed to find the rest.
Part of the trouble with these small chunks of rock is fixing their orbits. From the ground, it is very difficult – sometimes impossible – to determine their trajectory with enough precision to rule out impacts with our planet in the years to come. So, ESA have been concentrating on a mission to actually 'mark a cross' on small asteroids and check the state of the art of our technology. The Don Quijote mission is a project based on two phases. In the first phase, a spacecraft would rendezvous with an asteroid and go into orbit around it. It would monitor the asteroid for several months, precisely determining its position, shape, mass and gravity field.
In the second phase, another spacecraft would slam into the asteroid at a speed of around 10 km/s, while the first spacecraft watches, looking for any changes in the asteroid's trajectory. In this way, a mission involving two spacecraft would attempt to be the first to actually move an asteroid.
In preparation for dealing with small asteroids, ESA's Don Quijote is also starting small. In its current design, the first spacecraft, Sancho, could reach any one of 5 or 6 small, nearby asteroids. Each one is no larger than a few hundred metres in diameter. At present, the mission planners have chosen to concentrate on Apophis, a small asteroid that can swing dangerously close to Earth on the outwards stretch of its orbit around the Sun.
If it becomes a reality, Don Quijote could launch sometime early in the next decade. Sancho would take some 25 months to reach its target. Once there, it would begin its groundbreaking study – both literally and metaphorically.
"The idea is to get the technology ready before you really need it," says Ian Carnelli, Technical Officer for the Don Quijote mission at ESA.
In 1908, a 20-metre asteroid impacted the uninhabited Tunguska forest in Siberia, toppling trees and causing total devastation over an area of two thousand square kilometres. Scientists predict this type of event to occur about every 150 years. Next year's 100th anniversary of that impact will be yet another reminder of the need to learn about and become ready to deal with asteroids – even the small ones.
Ian Carnelli | alfa
NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth
17.11.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Pluto's hydrocarbon haze keeps dwarf planet colder than expected
16.11.2017 | University of California - Santa Cruz
The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.
Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...
Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.
That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...
Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.
During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....
The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.
Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...
Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...
15.11.2017 | Event News
15.11.2017 | Event News
30.10.2017 | Event News
17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine
17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses