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 New type of low-energy nanolaser that shines in all directions
18.12.2018 | Eindhoven University of Technology

nachricht NASA research reveals Saturn is losing its rings at 'worst-case-scenario' rate
18.12.2018 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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: Data storage using individual molecules

Researchers from the University of Basel have reported a new method that allows the physical state of just a few atoms or molecules within a network to be controlled. It is based on the spontaneous self-organization of molecules into extensive networks with pores about one nanometer in size. In the journal ‘small’, the physicists reported on their investigations, which could be of particular importance for the development of new storage devices.

Around the world, researchers are attempting to shrink data storage devices to achieve as large a storage capacity in as small a space as possible. In almost...

Im Focus: Data use draining your battery? Tiny device to speed up memory while also saving power

The more objects we make "smart," from watches to entire buildings, the greater the need for these devices to store and retrieve massive amounts of data quickly without consuming too much power.

Millions of new memory cells could be part of a computer chip and provide that speed and energy savings, thanks to the discovery of a previously unobserved...

Im Focus: An energy-efficient way to stay warm: Sew high-tech heating patches to your clothes

Personal patches could reduce energy waste in buildings, Rutgers-led study says

What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...

Im Focus: Lethal combination: Drug cocktail turns off the juice to cancer cells

A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.

The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...

Im Focus: New Foldable Drone Flies through Narrow Holes in Rescue Missions

A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.

Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

ICTM Conference 2019: Digitization emerges as an engineering trend for turbomachinery construction

12.12.2018 | Event News

New Plastics Economy Investor Forum - Meeting Point for Innovations

10.12.2018 | Event News

EGU 2019 meeting: Media registration now open

06.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Pressure tuned magnetism paves the way for novel electronic devices

18.12.2018 | Materials Sciences

New type of low-energy nanolaser that shines in all directions

18.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

NASA research reveals Saturn is losing its rings at 'worst-case-scenario' rate

18.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>