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The UA calculates the possibility of asteroid 2012 DA14 breaking up

Asteroide

Alicante, 18th February 2013

The University of Alicante is calculating the possibility that the asteroid 2012 DA14 breaks into pieces during its passing away from Earth. The UA Group of Planetary Sciences is using numerical simulations to estimate the odds of this happening.

Adriano Campo Bagatin, a lecturer at the Department of Physics, Systems Engineering and Signal Theory, poses about whether it is possible that the asteroid -which passed 28,000 kilometres away from the Earth's surface on Friday, 15th February- ends up into pieces due to tidal forces of our planet.

""Much depends on its internal structure —he states. If it were a monolithic body, formed of a single piece, this would not happen, but if the asteroid is composed of several reaccumulated fragments, united by their own gravity, it could have been already disintegrated and thus, its next step closer to the earth would be seen as a procession of aligned fragments. Through numerical simulations, we tried to reproduce the structure of this body and see what would the effect of passing near the Earth be. Such simulations need time but we expect to have the results in the next few days, before 2012 DA14 is too far away and too weak to see what really happened to it”. This celestial body (or its fragments in the event that this disruption has occurred) would again cross the Earth's orbit at a much greater distance, 2 million miles instead of less than 30,000.

Adriano Campo Bagatin, coordinator of the Spanish Community of Planetary Sciences, has recently participated in the screening of an asteroid for a mission project of the European Space Agency, the Marco Polo-R, which aims to bring to Earth samples of its surface so that they can be studied in the laboratory.

 

Reflections on meteorites and small asteroids

Asteroids: the traffic light before the crash

 

Adriano Campo Bagatin

Senior Lecturer at the University of Alicante

Coordinator of the Spanish Community of Planetary Sciences

 

 

In an interval of less than 24 hours, last Friday, we had two unexpected visits or so: the fall of a meteorite of the size of a few metres and the passage of an asteroid of tens of metres at a distance lower than the height at which the satellites for telecommunications are located (around 27 thousand kilometres away from the Earth's surface).

Are asteroids attacking us? No, we can rest assured in this regard. No known phenomenon is causing a flow of objects greater than normal. It's all within the expectations, albeit it is 'shocking' that two such events concur on the same day: that’s statistics.

What we have to get used to is the alarms on small asteroids (called NEAs: Near Earth Asteroids) that come close to Earth. Keep this in mind, we speak of small asteroids of few tens of metres, not the devastating asteroids of hundreds of metres in size. The NEAs observation campaigns have increased as we have improved access to telescopes and higher quality CCD cameras, which means an increase in the discovery of these small objects in orbits very close to our planet before they come closer. But these asteroids have been there for hundreds of thousands of years, all that happens is that now we have started to see them. And there are millions of these bodies, so it would not be such a rare event that any of them would end up by crashing into our planet. What to do? Obviously, it would be pointless to prepare an expensive defence with devices or spacecraft that simply would not have the time to act against so sudden a threat. For small evils small remedies, in the sense of inexpensive. It would be enough to establish (all the better if agreed between all the countries in a certain geographic area, such as Europe) some evacuation protocols to allow the population to safeguard against a known risk of impact within a few days in advance.

 

But all this does not exist yet, and there is none even at a state or regional level: no such a protocol and we are still surprised watching at the sky and see how a rock of 50 metres at thirty thousand kilometres per hour warns us what might happen tomorrow, or within some years. But you know how things work, we usually put traffic lights on dangerous crossings only after having some fatal casualties. Do we really want to wait for the next crossing with an asteroid?

 

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