Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Dealing with threatening space rocks

21.09.2007
Every now and then a space rock hits the world's media – sometimes almost literally. Threatening asteroids that zoom past the Earth, fireballs in the sky seen by hundreds of people and mysterious craters which may have been caused by impacting meteorites; all make ESA's planned mission Don Quijote look increasingly timely.

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
Further information:
http://www.esa.int/esaCP/SEM8SUB1S6F_index_0.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht From the cosmos to fusion plasmas, PPPL presents findings at global APS gathering
13.11.2018 | DOE/Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

nachricht A two-atom quantum duet
12.11.2018 | Institute for Basic Science

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: A Chip with Blood Vessels

Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.

Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...

Im Focus: A Leap Into Quantum Technology

Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.

In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...

Im Focus: Research icebreaker Polarstern begins the Antarctic season

What does it look like below the ice shelf of the calved massive iceberg A68?

On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.

Im Focus: Penn engineers develop ultrathin, ultralight 'nanocardboard'

When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure

Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...

Im Focus: Coping with errors in the quantum age

Physicists at ETH Zurich demonstrate how errors that occur during the manipulation of quantum system can be monitored and corrected on the fly

The field of quantum computation has seen tremendous progress in recent years. Bit by bit, quantum devices start to challenge conventional computers, at least...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

“3rd Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP 2018” Attracts International Experts and Users

09.11.2018 | Event News

On the brain’s ability to find the right direction

06.11.2018 | Event News

European Space Talks: Weltraumschrott – eine Gefahr für die Gesellschaft?

23.10.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

The dawn of a new era for genebanks - molecular characterisation of an entire genebank collection

13.11.2018 | Life Sciences

Fish recognize their prey by electric colors

13.11.2018 | Life Sciences

Ultrasound Connects

13.11.2018 | Awards Funding

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>