SCIENTISTS have cooked up a way to help humanity avoid an apocalyptic asteroid strike.
Using a mixture of probes and projectiles, it would be possible to knock an incoming space rock off of its collision course with Earth.Scientists could deflect an incoming asteroid using a kamikaze spacecraft[/caption]
Cooked up in 2020 by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the system is designed to help us deal with deadly asteroids before it’s too late.
Space rocks like Apophis and Bennu, for instance, are known to astronomers and expected to come perilously close to Earth over the next century. There are currently no asteroids that we know of on course to hit our planet.
“Most scientists believe it is never too early to consider strategies for deflecting an asteroid if one were ever on a crash course with our home planet,” MIT wrote in a statement on its website.
The researchers devised a framework for identifying what methods would be most effective in deflecting an incoming asteroid.
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It takes into account the size and speed of the asteroid as well as the amount of warning time scientists will get before an impact.
Their modelling coughed out a decision map that leaves us with three options in the event of an asteroid bearing down on us.
The first is launching a projectile to alter the rock’s course, while the second is to send a probe to measure the object to help scientists figure out the best way to develop said projectile.
The third option is to send two probes to take measurements and to also nudge the asteroid to a position that will make it easier to knock out with a projectile later on.
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Simulations run using digital versions of Bennu and Apophis suggest timing is key.
If an impact is five years or more off, then the best course of action is to send two probes followed by a projectile.
Tighten the time frame to between two and five years, and humanity is better off sending just the one probe before hitting the rock with a projectile.
At just one year before impact, there would be nothing we could do to avoid a collision, scientists warned.
The official plan for avoiding a major collision is hitting the incoming rock with nuclear weapons.
That’s proved controversial among scientists, who argue a nuke might not even have the power required to shatter an asteroid.
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It’s anyone’s guess whether MIT’s proposal will get anywhere – the system relies heavily on our detection systems catching collisions years in advance.
The research was published in the journal Acta Astronautica.
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