Deputy PM Rogozin invites best minds to create anti-asteroid technology

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said there was no means capable of diverting asteroids from Earth and invited the best minds to help create such a technology, Itar-Tass reports. “This is a dangerous phenomenon. Those who think that we know everything about the far reaches of deep space and that no catastrophe will happen are seriously wrong,” Rogozin said at a meeting with students of the South Urals Federal University on Saturday, April 12.

“All solutions associated with space exploration are mainly orbiting assets that hang over Earth, but they look down on Earth to detect a ballistic missile launch” but “we do not see” a body that is coming out of deep space, he said.

“But even if we detect a body like that and understand that it will come close to Earth in 20 years and become dangerous, we have no means for dealing with such threats,” Rogozin said.

“This task can attract the best minds, it will become an idea that can consolidate the efforts of science, technology and industry,” he said.

In February 2013, a meteorite fell in Chelyabinsk, Urals region, causing extensive damage and injuries.

The asteroid Apophis is another potential threat. The director of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Lev Zeleny, said earlier that the asteroid would pass by Earth in 2029 at a relatively close distance, and might collide with the planet in 2036, which may have catastrophic consequences for Earth.

He thinks that the first step towards avoiding such consequences should be the placing of a beacon on the asteroid in order to know its exact trajectory.

“Only after that can it be possible to decide how to deflect this trajectory depending on its parameters and the structure of the celestial body,” he said.

According to estimates, Apophis will come close to Earth by 2029 within less than 40,000 kilometres in 2029. In 2036, the planet’s gravitation may change its trajectory, causing a collision. “The rock giant may collide with Earth producing an explosion the force of which may reach several hundred megatonnes in TNT equivalent,” the scientist said.

Apophis is a near-Earth asteroid that caused a brief period of concern in December 2004 because initial observations indicated a relatively large probability (up to 2.7 percent) that it would strike Earth in 2029. Additional observations provided improved predictions that eliminated the possibility of an impact on Earth or the Moon in 2029.

However there remained a possibility that during the 2029 close encounter with Earth, Apophis would pass through a gravitational keyhole, a precise region in space no more than about 400 meters across, that would set up a future impact on April 13, 2036. This possibility kept the asteroid at Level 1 on the Torino impact hazard scale until August 2006. It broke the record for the highest level on the Torino Scale, being, for only a short time, a level 4, before it was lowered.

Additional observations of the trajectory of Apophis revealed the keyhole would likely be missed, and on August 5, 2006 Apophis was lowered to Level 0 on the Torino Scale. As of October 19, 2006, the impact probability for April 13, 2036, was calculated as 1 in 45,000. An additional impact date in 2037 was also identified; the impact probability for that encounter was calculated as 1 in 12.3 million.

Most experts agree that Apophis requires closer scrutiny, and to that end, in February 2008 the Planetary Society awarded 50,000 U.S. dollars in prize money to companies and students who submitted designs for space probes that would put a tracking device on or near the asteroid.

According to mathematical modelling data, if an asteroid several kilometres wide or a comet nucleus collides with the planet, “mankind may be wiped out of the face of Earth instantly or may be thrown back several centuries in its development”.

If a space body falls into the oceans, the effect will be “much more devastating than, for example, seismic tsunami”, Andrei Fenkelshtein, director of the Institute of Applied Astronomy and correspondent member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said.

“The impact of a rock asteroid some 500 metres in diameter on the surface of the ocean at a speed of 10-20 meters per second will create a cavern causing circular waves that may come as high as four kilometres in the centre and 300-400 metres when they hit the continents,” he said.

He believes it is quite likely that similar events “caused 90 percent of all animals on Earth to die millions of years ago”.

The scientist believes that the asteroid and comet threat is a real challenge to mankind in the 21st century and may as well as be described as “space terrorism”.

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