US probe planned to bombard asteroid

If an asteroid hits Earth, it can have serious consequences. Researchers now want to change the orbit of an asteroid for the first time through bombardment.

the essentials in brief

  • There are currently no very large asteroids on a collision course with Earth.
  • Nevertheless, researchers want to be prepared in the event of a possible threat.
  • The bombardment of a double asteroid is planned for 2022.

Asteroid impacts can cause death and devastation. Experts have long been scanning the sky to see dangerous fragments from space in good time. For researchers, they are both a curse and a blessing.

They possibly brought the water and with it the basis of all life to earth. But they can also bring death. The danger of asteroid impacts is omnipresent. The space authorities are increasingly turning their attention to the chunks from the vastness of our solar system.

The defense against these remnants of the formation of planets is no longer science fiction. The bombardment of asteroids is not only the subject of disaster films. Rather, it is in the minds of researchers and is set to become a reality for the first time shortly.

According to experts, however, you do not have to be afraid of disaster from space at the moment. Really large chunks are not on a collision course with our home planet.

“There is no need to panic.” This is what the asteroid expert from the European space agency Esa, Detlef Koschny, said on the occasion of Asteroid Day on June 30th.

But there can always be surprises. “There are many objects out there that we don’t even know about.”

Large asteroid collided in 2013

In 2013, a 20-meter asteroid came out of nowhere in the Russian metropolis of Chelyabinsk and wreaked havoc. Without any warning, the pressure wave injured around 1,500 people, mostly through broken windows.

An explosion of a chunk of this size releases an energy of 500 kilotons of the explosive TNT. For comparison: the Hiroshima bomb weighed 15 kilotons. On June 30, 1908, an asteroid explosion also occurred in Russia.

In Siberia, the pressure wave swept away millions of trees on an area almost as large as the Saarland. Because of this natural disaster, the United Nations declared June 30th to be International Asteroid Day in 2016.

«Apophis» has no potential for collision

From a height of 50 meters you have to think about an intentional distraction, according to Koschny. Asteroid “Apophis” with a diameter of around 300 meters was such a candidate.

It was long believed that the Brocken had collision potential with Earth in 2068. «Apophis is off the table. The danger is averted, “says Koschny about the latest calculations. The asteroid has been removed from Esa’s risk list.

It will also fly past Earth in 2029, only 30,000 kilometers away. “That’s below the height of weather and television satellites,” says Alan Harris. He is an asteroid researcher from the German Aerospace Center. For comparison: the moon is around 400,000 kilometers away.

The impact of a roughly twelve-kilometer chunk shows what destructive power asteroids can have. This was around 66 million years ago in Mexico. It is widely believed to be the cause of dinosaur extinction. According to a study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center in Frankfurt, the consequences of the impact were: global darkness, severe cooling, forest fires and acidification of the oceans.

US probe should hit double asteroids

When something like this comes down to earth, Harris says you don’t have many options. One would have to try to divert the path with a series of atomic warheads. “But we would know that centuries in advance. We are sure that there is nothing in the sky that could hit the earth that is larger than a kilometer. “

Nevertheless, the space authorities want to be prepared for any dangers from space. The sky is already being scanned and Esa and Nasa are now starting a joint project. This is to change the orbit of an asteroid for the first time in the history of space travel.

The US probe “Dart” is expected to hit the smaller chunk of a double asteroid at a distance of 150 million kilometers in 2022. The Hera mission, named after a Greek goddess and controlled by the Esa control center in Darmstadt, is scheduled to start in 2024. It is supposed to investigate the “bombarded” part of the asteroid.

No asteroid destruction à la Bruce Willis

According to Koschny, “Dart” will hit at a speed of almost seven kilometers per second. At such a speed you would be from Amsterdam to Munich in less than two minutes. “That is a milestone for asteroid defense.”

But they don’t want to destroy the asteroid. “Breaking things like Bruce Willis does is not good. Because then all the crumbs fall on the ground », says Koschny with a view to the disaster film« Armageddon ».

According to Harris, asteroids are both a blessing and a curse. The constant danger of impacts contrasts with the potentially life-giving property. “The idea is that the asteroids we see today are related to the building blocks of the earth. With the original bodies that built the earth. “

It is believed that these are perhaps the main source of water. “It really is, asteroids can be the alpha and omega of life on earth.”

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