How to deflect an asteroid

A close examination of Russian meteorite allows scientists better to understand the importance of the collision compaction processes that affects asteroids as they near Earth. Jessica Snir reports.

A micrograph of material from the Chelyabinsk. It meteorite belongs to a group known as ordinary chondrites.
International research headed by Spain’s National Research Council (CSIS) aims to answer the weighty question of how best to deflect an asteroid whose orbit is plummeting dangerously towards Earth.

The study published in the The Astrophysical Journal focuses on the examination of the 18-metre diameter asteroid, Chelyabinsk, named after the Russian town over which it exploded back in 2013.

Despite its meagre size, the shock wave that formed as it hurtled through Earth’s atmosphere at hypersonic speed was far from inconsequential. The impact of its explosion culminated in the production of thousands of meteorites striking Russian soil.

The fragmentation of this asteroid exhibited the sheer force of the Earth’s atmosphere and its ability to embody an effective shield against an even more calamitous collision.

The CSIS team of researchers examined the chemical and mineralogical composition of the Chelyabinsk meteorites in order to gain an understanding of the collision compaction process experienced by the asteroid as it approached Earth.

The results of this study determined that it is in fact the physical properties of the asteroid, namely its hardness, elasticity and fracture resistance, which are “fundamental in determining the success of a mission in which a kinetic projectile would be launched to deflect the orbit of a dangerous asteroid”.

Contrib jess snir.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1
Jessica Snir is a clinical trial coordinator at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia and Cosmos contributor.
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