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Deflecting an asteroid like Bennu, which has a slim chance of hitting Earth in about a century and a half, could require multiple small impacts from some sort of huge man-made deflection device, experts say.
Scientists in California fired projectiles at meteorites to simulate the best methods of altering the course of an asteroid so it wouldn’t hit Earth.
According to the results so far, an asteroid like Bennu, which is rich in carbon, could need several small bumps to charge its course.
Bennu, which is about a third of a mile wide, has a slightly higher chance of hitting Earth than previously thought, NASA revealed earlier this month.
The space agency raised the risk of Bennu hitting Earth at some point in the next 300 years to one in 1,750.
Bennu also has a one in 2,700 chance of hitting Earth on the afternoon of Sept. 24, 2182, according to the NASA study.
Scientists have given serious thought to how to prevent an asteroid from ever hitting Earth since the 1960s, but previous approaches have generally been accompanied by theories about how the cosmic object could be blown up into thousands of pieces.
The problem with this is that these pieces could potentially zoom toward Earth and pose an almost as dangerous and human hazard as the original asteroid.
A more recent approach, called kinetic impact deflection (KID), involves shooting something into space that gently knocks the asteroid off course, away from Earth, while remaining intact.
Recent Efforts of KID were outlined at the Meteoritical Society’s 84th Annual Meeting held this month in Chicago and led by Dr. George Flynn, a physicist at the State University of New York, Plattsburgh.
“You may need to use multiple effects,” said Dr. Flynn talking to The New York Times. ‘It [Bennu] maybe barely miss, but barely miss is enough.’
Researchers have worked at NASA’s Ames Vertical Gun Range, built in the 1960s during the Apollo era and based at Moffett Federal Airfield in California’s Silicon Valley, for the recent KID experiments.
They fired small, spherical aluminum projectiles at meteorites suspended from lengths of nylon rope.
The team used 32 meteorites — fragments of asteroids that fell to Earth from space — mostly purchased from private dealers.
The tests allowed them to determine at what point the momentum of a man-made object fired at an asteroid changes it into thousands of fragments, rather than throwing it off course as desired.
“If you break it into pieces, some of those pieces could still be on a collision course with Earth,” said Dr Flynn.
Carbonaceous chondrite (C-type) asteroids, such as Bennu, are most common in the Solar System.
They are darker than other asteroids due to the presence of carbon and are some of the oldest objects in the solar system – dating back to its birth.
According to the findings of experiments at AVGR, the type of asteroid being targeted (and how much carbon it contains) can determine how much momentum is aimed at it from a man-made KID device.
From the experiments, the researchers found that C-type meteorites could withstand only about one-sixth of the momentum that the other chondrites could withstand before shattering.
‘[C-type] asteroids are much more difficult to deflect without disturbance than regular chondrite asteroids,” the experts concluded.
“These results indicate that multiple successive impacts may be required to deflect rather than disrupt asteroids, especially carbonaceous asteroids.”
Therefore, about 160 years in the future — when Bennu is most likely to collide with Earth, according to NASA — a KID device should give it a series of gentle nudges to keep it from disintegrating and sending dangerous splinter fragments to Earth. the earth flies. .
NASA’s recent study on Bennu, published in the journal Icarusbe aware that there is a greater than 99.9 percent chance that Bennu will not impact Earth in the next three centuries.
“Although the chances of it hitting Earth are very slim, Bennu remains one of the two most dangerous known asteroids in our solar system, along with another asteroid called 1950 DA,” NASA said in a statement.