May 28, 2024

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Could we have destroyed it?

Could we have destroyed it?

On July 13, 2023, asteroid 2023 NT1 passed near Earth at a distance of 100,000 kilometers, without scientists knowing anything about it. This raises the question: To what extent can we as humanity protect Earth from small asteroids like 2023 NT1? Perhaps scientists from America have found a solution to this matter.

in search The researchers write that small asteroids, like 2023 NT1, even if they were very close to Earth at the time of their discovery, could still be destroyed using a method known as PI, orCrush it‘. In Dutch this means “crushed”. This method uses a rocket containing a number of piercing rods as the payload. Some of these rods are made entirely of a single material, others are filled with conventional explosives. Once the missile approaches the asteroid, the rods are released and penetrate the flight hazard. This eventually causes the asteroid to split into smaller pieces up to 15 meters in diameter.

quick answer
The big advantage of PI is that it can respond very quickly. For example, scientists wrote that even when an impact is several hours away, the asteroid can still be neutralized. Even then, most of the remaining debris will burn up in the atmosphere. The shock wave from the falling debris would not have enough energy to cause serious damage to nature reserves and cities. On Earth, at the moment of penetration, passers-by would essentially see a large light show, consisting of a series of (harmless) explosions and flashes.

invisible
PI is not the only way asteroids can be destroyed; Scientists have previously developed another defense technology. Deflection is used for this purpose. A good example of this is the experiment conducted about a year ago with the Dimorphos space rock. In this test one was found ArrowThe space probe collided with the space rock at a speed of 6 km/s. The result was a successful reversal of the space rock’s trajectory.

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The downside of drifting is that planning, building, and launching a space probe could easily take several years, if not decades. In addition, building such a space probe costs a lot of money and equipment. The problem with small asteroids is that they cannot always be observed for several years, but sometimes only a few weeks or a few days before impact. Or, as was the case with the 2023 NT1, sometimes it doesn’t happen at all (see box).

About 2023 NT1
2023 NT1 flew close to Earth at a distance of about 100,000 km in July. This made the space rock three times closer to the moon! But the scholars missed that; They did not discover the space rock until two days later. In this study, the researchers also explain why: the space rock came from the direction of the sun and was therefore hidden in bright sunlight.

Prevent disaster
In the best case scenario, the asteroid is detected decades or centuries before the impact. In this case, swerving may be better, because a small change in course is required. Therefore, the study emphasizes several times that PI is mainly intended to be an addition to the available options, and not an alternative to the deviation method.

However, it has also been pointed out that in order to set something off, you must first be able to notice it. Therefore, researchers repeatedly emphasize the importance of good detection methods. There is particular hope for future observatories like this Rubin Observatory Heritage Survey of Space and Time (LSST) and the upcoming NASA Near Earth Object Surveyor (NEO).. So, it’s very good that a way has now been devised to neutralize smaller asteroids like 2023 NT1, but at the same time it’s still a bit like hunting in the dark without a flashlight.

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