14 February 2013, 17:58

Asteroid DA14 to pass Earth tomorrow: Stranger in the night

Asteroid DA14 to pass Earth tomorrow: Stranger in the night

On February 15, asteroid DA14, which is as big as half of a football field, will pass Earth at a distance of 28,000 km, within the ring of geostationary orbits. This is the largest asteroid that will pass so close from Earth since the scientific observations over dangerous space objects started in the 1990-s.

With DA14 flying to Earth discussions have resumed on how to fight asteroid danger.

On February 1, the European Space Agency (ESA) began to accept technical proposals on how to redirect dangerous space objects away from the Earth.

So far the ESA has focused on the only experimental concept AIDA (The Asteroid Impact& Deflection Assessment). The method implies launching two space vehicles towards two asteroids that are rotating one around each other. The first vehicle is to clash at a high speed into the smaller of the asteroids so that the impact force changes the trajectory of the asteroid. The second vehicle which is an observer would be recording changes in the rotation period.

The mission is scheduled for 2022. For the experiment the scientists have chosen Didymos, a double asteroid which has an 800-m body and a150 m satellite.

According to Lydia Rykhlova, head of the department of space astrometry of the Institute of Astronomy of the Russian Academy of Sciences, there are similar projects in Russia too.

"We have the Makeev center in the Urals. Its director Vladimir Degtyar said that they had developed their own two vehicles method. One of the vehicles is an explorer and the second one is an explosive device. It can be even a nuclear explosive device. They have been working on this idea for a long time."

Twenty years ago the nuclear center in Snezhinsk, the Chelyabinsk region, held a conference which was attended by the father of the hydrogen bomb Edvard Teller. The conference came to the conclusion that there was no other protection from asteroids than to send a vehicle with a bomb to it and explode it.

Using two nuclear (or thermonuclear) explosive devices is even better: the explosion of the first one creates a deep crater in the asteroid while the second explosive device would go off inside it tearing the asteroid into pieces. However practicing this method would require the amendment of the UN conventions which ban bringing nuclear weapons into space.

Also, in order to make an asteroid deviate from its Earth-targeted trajectory it is proposed to install a rocket engine on its surface. It is not ruled out that this method will be applied against the DA 14 asteroid.

By the way the asteroid was discovered by accident. Dentist and astronomer Jaime Nomen noticed the asteroid a year ago in one of the photos he had made in the observatory in Spain. The amateur astronomer reported his finding to the Minor Planet Center in the US and the astronomers all around the world ran to their telescopes.

The first calculation of the asteroid orbit made scientists puzzled. Accoridng to them DA14 was flying towards the Earth. After some additional calculations were made it tuned out that the asteroid would not hit the Earth on February 15, 2013.

The flight of the “night stranger” will be broadcast on many astrophysics websites for example on www. space.com. It will fly closest to the Earth at 3:24 am Moscow time on the night from Friday to Saturday. At that moment the asteroid will be right above the island of Sumatra. It will be visible from telescopes in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia while observers in the Western hemisphere won’t be able to see it because of daytime.

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