'World remains vulnerable to asteroid impacts'

News Desk
2 July 2020, Thu
Published: 02:06

'World remains vulnerable to asteroid impacts'

As of today, we do not have much opportunity to protect against asteroids, an astrophysicist at the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) told Anadolu Agency, marking International Asteroid Day on June 30.

Umut Yildiz is an astrophysicist and telecommunications engineer of Turkish origin who works on deep space telecommunications for the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s deep space missions.

Asteroid consciousness has just begun to be formed in people, Yildiz said in an interview.

He noted that in 2005, the US Congress assigned NASA to detect 95% of the asteroids above 140 meters (around 460 feet) by 2020, adding that this year, much of the target has been reached.

Although there are minor deviations from their orbits due to their small trajectories, "asteroids are generally harmless. They have been traveling in the same place for millions of years," he said, adding the vast majority of asteroids in our solar system travel in an orbit between Mars and Jupiter.

He explained that some asteroids can deviate into different orbits where they can go in or out of the solar system.

"We are talking about a 4.5 billion-year-old solar system. Even if there were a few inches of deviation from the asteroid orbit a few million years ago, there may be a possibility of colliding with any planet by going into the solar system."

Yildiz underlined that although asteroids are generally not dangerous, the discovery of them one by one provides a resource to determine whether they pose any danger in the future.

Project to protect from asteroids
NASA will launch the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission in 2021 to protect the earth from asteroids, he said.

DART is a planetary defense-driven test of technologies for preventing an impact on Earth by a hazardous asteroid and will be the first demonstration of the kinetic impactor technique to change the motion of an asteroid in space, according to NASA.

Yildiz said a binary near-Earth asteroid named Didymos has been chosen as the target for the DART demonstration.

While the primary body of Didymos is approximately 780 meters (2,559 feet) across, its secondary body or “moonlet” is about 160 meters (525 feet) in size, which is more typical of the size of asteroids that could pose the most likely significant threat to Earth.

"This is the first project to protect from asteroids so far. Studies in terms of detection have been going on for years," he added.

"If a large asteroid hits the Earth without our knowledge, it can lead to a major disaster."

Observation of asteroids
There are stations and telescopes that track asteroids, and the information is constantly being tracked and the orbits of asteroids are being detected, he said.

He went on to say that an asteroid’s trajectory is being calculated again with observations made at certain intervals to determine whether it is continuing to move in the same orbit. Thus, it is being examined whether it deviates from its orbit.

Size of an asteroid’s impact
The size of an asteroid’s impact depends on the impact angle, mass, size and composition, Yildiz said.

In terms of composition, some asteroids are iron-laden, while others may be carbon-laden, he said.

"If it is an asteroid consisting only of silicate carbon, it will have a lower effect. But if it is iron-laden, it will have a larger impact. These types of asteroids do not break down in the atmosphere and fall directly on the Earth and can have a major impact on the place they fall."

Asteroid mining
It would take years to travel to an asteroid, after which it would be necessary to conduct research to understand its contents, said the NASA expert.

"After reaching the asteroid, the stage of infrared imaging comes to determine the ores and their depth," he said.

After returning to Earth, Yildiz said, it would be necessary to produce a new machine that would extract the ores.

Investing in space science
Yildiz noted that it is very important to create space consciousness and culture in every country.

"Although this culture does not show its effect immediately, it will develop with generations and affect people's lives." Source: Anadolu Agency