Feeds

MIT boffins plan for asteroidal doom

One in 45k is still a chance...

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

Researchers at MIT say they know what the near-Earth asteroid Apophis is made of, information that could be vital if we need to divert or pulverise the space-rock in 2036.

By analysing its spectrum and comparing it with meteorites that have already landed on Earth, the team has "nailed" its composition, says Richard Binzel, professor of planetary sciences in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS).

Apophis is a 270-metre-wide chunk of debris left over from the solar system's heady days of planet formation. In 2029 it will pass within 22,000 miles of Earth, well inside the lunar orbit, and edging close to some of our satellites. In 2036, it'll pass the Earth again, and there is a very tiny (one in 45,000) chance that the earlier encounter will have knocked it onto a collision course.

So, to be fully prepared for this potentially planet-smashing encounter, MIT unleashed its finest asteroid analysers to find out exactly what it is that probably won't crash into us in 29 years' time. The info could also be useful for any other possible mission to the asteroid, the boffins say.

"Basic characterisation is the first line of defence," Binzel said. "We've got to know the enemy."

Even though the chances of it hitting us are remote, the damage a head-on collision with Apophis could do makes it worth thinking about. A 270-metre asteroid could devastate a region the size of France, or create huge, coast-engulfing tsunamis.

So Binzel and his team turned the IT Magellan telescope in Chile and NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii towards Apophis, and set about analysing the results. Happily, enough meteorites have fallen on Earth that the team was able to find a near-exact match.

Their work suggests that Apophis is a rare type, known as LL chondrite. Just seven per cent of the space rocks that land on Earth are a match to this pyroxene and olivine-rich rock, the team says.

"The beauty of having found a meteorite match for Apophis is that because we have laboratory measurements for the density and strength of these meteorites, we can infer many of the same properties for the asteroid Apophis itself," Binzel said.

Knowing the asteroid's composition will help those preparing planetary defence to choose the best method from the array of sci-fi options, such as lasers, nukes or space tugboats, to manoeuvre it out of harm's way. ®

HP ProLiant Gen8: Integrated lifecycle automation

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
Diary note: Pluto's close-up is a year from … now!
New Horizons is less than a year from the dwarf planet
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Mobile application security vulnerability report
The alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, and the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.