Are we able to avoid the impact of an asteroid on Earth?
UA lecturer Adriano Campo Bagatin requests government support for the AIM space mission, whose goal is to measure current technological capacity against asteroid collisions
AIM Mission. Image: ESA / Science Office
Alicante. Monday, 21 November 2016
Are we able to avoid the impact of an asteroid on Earth? This is precisely the AIM mission (Asteroid Impact Mission) in which lecturer Adriano Campo Bagatin, from the University of Alicante Department of Physics, Systems Engineering and Signal Theory participates as the only Spanish researcher member of the Coordinating Committee.
This mission, proposed by the European Space Agency (ESA), jointly with its US counterpart DART, make up the mission AIDA (Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment) which seeks to verify by 2022 whether the currently available technology is capable of diverting an approximately 150m diameter asteroid off its orbit . "This asteroid, which will be only a test-bed without any danger to the Earth, orbits around a larger one, called Didymos, and this opportunity is precisely what makes the space mission AIM something unique, probably unrepeatable in decades", UA lecturer explained.
The European side of AIM mission faces its biggest challenge at the beginning of December this year: to get definitive economic support from the ministries in charge of participating countries. In the case of Spain, the competent body is the brand new Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness.
"The Spanish attitude is relevant and eagerly awaited by European most powerful countries due to several reasons. This government has the chance to take a step forward and clearly state that Spain is where it needs to be: among the countries that want to lead such exciting scientific and technological initiatives. The positive return will be economic for the aerospace companies involved and for the institutions directly involved such as the University of Alicante, with jobs and new contracts for young technicians and researchers. However the most important of Spain's explicit support for AIM would be perhaps the return in terms of publicity for the countries involved and in terms of the renewed interest in science and knowledge that will awaken among the new generations", Adriano Campo Bagatin said.
Unknown small asteroids
Recent search programs have identified more than 90% of large asteroids close to Earth without any of them posing a threat to date. However, the real problem lies in those smaller ones. "There are tens of thousands of asteroids large enough to pierce the atmosphere like a butter knife, whose orbits are continually approaching the Earth, and which could inflict incalculable human and material damage if they finally hit its surface", Campo Bagatin said.
In this sense, an asteroid between 100 and 500 meters in size, entering the atmosphere with a speed of around 100,000 km / h, can form a crater of 1 to 10 km in diameter and devastate an area the size of the region of Madrid. "Bodies of this size we only know about 15-20% and being small is difficult to detect . Should one of these bodies aimed to collide with the Earth be discovered, we would probably avoid it a few years or decades in advance", he added.
This is the reason why the AIM mission is backed up by dozens of European scientists and personalities who have signed the letter I SUPPORT AIM, presented at a press conference in Berlin on Monday, 14 November 2016. Among the signatories are renowned British cosmologist Lord Martin Rees from Cambridge University and astrophysicist Brian May, best known as the lead guitarist of the rock band Queen.