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'World remains vulnerable to asteroid impacts'

30 June 2020 14:20
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'World remains vulnerable to asteroid impacts'

ANKARA. KAZINFORM 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.

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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, Anadolu Agency reports.

«Dinosaurs are extinct today because they lacked opposable thumbs and the brainpower to build a space program,» said Yildiz, quoting Neil DeGrasse Tyson, an American astrophysicist, cosmologist and planetary scientist, on asteroid consciousness.

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

«[The COVID-19] pandemic taught people the time has come to become aware of global disasters such as asteroid collisions. Asteroids are also one of the global disasters,» he said.

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.

«The smallest one named Didymoon will be hit by a spacecraft to determine whether or not this asteroid lightly dislocates from its trajectory. With the weight of the DART we have, it will be checked if the asteroid is moving away or not. If it does not move away, other studies will be done accordingly.»

The DART spacecraft will achieve the kinetic impact deflection by deliberately crashing itself into the moonlet at a speed of approximately 6.6 kilometers per second (roughly 15,000 miles per hour), says NASA. The collision is expected to change the speed of the moonlet in its orbit around the main body by a fraction of 1%, but this will change the orbital period of the moonlet by several minutes -- enough to be observed and measured using telescopes on 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.

He said that due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the time has come for people to become conscious of global disasters such as asteroid collisions.

Yildiz cautioned that asteroids are also one of the global disasters.

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