Imagine that you live in the time of dinosaurs. Everything is going well, but suddenly, you see something appear in the sky. A fireball that threatens to extinguish all or almost everything. And there is nothing to stop it. Because, of course, nobody wondered how to deflect an asteroid. As well. On April 13, 2029, something will fly near Earth. An icy space rock wider than the Eiffel Tower. It will go at 30 kilometers per second, touching the sphere of geostationary satellites of the planet. It is the Apophis, named in honor of the Egyptian god of chaos. Scientists think that orbit will make his next visit, 2036, dangerously close.
It is never too early to think about how to deflect an asteroid. Another possible threat is the asteroid Bennu. At MIT they developed REXIS, a model that characterizes the abundance of chemical elements on the surface. It is a map of decisions to identify the best possible mission to divert an asteroid to several hypothetical threat situations. It helps to project scenarios of dangerous proximity of asteroids. Sung Wook Paek is the lead author of the study.
In 2007, NASA concluded in a report recommending the most effective way to divert an asteroid. A nuclear bomb launched into space. The force of its detonation would destroy the asteroid, although as a result the planet would have to deal with any nuclear effect. The second best option was to send a "kinetic impactor." A projectile that, if pointed in the right direction and with the right speed, should collide with the asteroid, transfer a fraction of its momentum, and take it out of its path to Earth. "The basic principle of physics is like playing pool," explains Paek.
The researchers tested their simulation for the asteroid Apophis and Bennu. For the kinetic option not to fail, each asteroid must be known with great certainty.
With the new simulation tool, the team plans to estimate the success of other diversion missions in the future. “Instead of changing the size of a projectile, we can change the number of launches and send several smaller spaceships to collide with an asteroid, one by one. Or we could launch projectiles from the Moon or use deceased satellites as kinetic impactors, ”explains Paek. "We have created a decision map that can help anticipate the possible scenarios of a hypothetical future asteroid diversion mission," he concludes.