Feeds

MIT boffins plan for asteroidal doom

One in 45k is still a chance...

Remote control for virtualized desktops

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. ®

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

More from The Register

next story
Bond villains lament as Wicked Lasers withdraw death ray
Want to arm that shark? Better get in there quick
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
The next big thing in medical science: POO TRANSPLANTS
Your brother's gonna die, kid, unless we can give him your, well ...
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
Simon's says quantum computing will work
Boffins blast algorithm with half a dozen qubits
prev story

Whitepapers

Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
How to determine if cloud backup is right for your servers
Two key factors, technical feasibility and TCO economics, that backup and IT operations managers should consider when assessing cloud backup.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Internet Security Threat Report 2014
An overview and analysis of the year in global threat activity: identify, analyze, and provide commentary on emerging trends in the dynamic threat landscape.