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International Day of the Asteroids: How can humanity protect itself from the catastrophe from space?


June 30 is the International Asteroid Day. The United Nations has chosen the day of the Tunguska disaster to raise awareness of the dangers of being hit by the earth. Because one thing is certain, according to experts: The question is not whether, but when a chunk from space will hit us. But how could mankind ward off such a catastrophe? Here, the research has some answers - and sometimes very unusual proposals.

Asteroids have wiped out the dinosaurs and also in modern times devastated huge areas, such as the forest area in Tunguska.
Sightings in the night sky and close fly-bys of celestial blocks constantly remind humanity that such an event could happen at any time.

Since the films "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact", Hollywood is also dealing with the phenomenon of asteroid impact. Mostly in the cinema astronauts are sent on a mission to the space projectile, with the help of a nuclear bomb, which is to detonate on the celestial body, to save humanity from annihilation.

Scientists believe that is realistic, albeit very unlikely. Experts have come up with many other suggestions on how to save humanity.

Asteroid defense by non-nuclear bombardment

It does not have to be a nuclear bomb right away: Shelling with smaller, non-explosive objects can throw a piece of rock away from space in space.

The participants of the first "Planetary Defense Conference" 2009 in Spain came to this conclusion. The data were based on NASA's "Deep Impact" mission.
The space agency sent the probe in 2005 to the asteroid "Temple 1". It orbits the sun within five and a half years and approaches the Earth to 133 million kilometers.

The aim of the mission was to explore the interior of the asteroid. For this purpose, the chunks were attacked with an "impactor", a projectile, which was fired by the probe.

The mission brought the desired data and another side effect: Humanity had proven that it was capable of reaching an asteroid and firing at it with a cannon.

Whether the technique can also be used for emergencies depends on several factors: on the one hand, the object to be intercepted must have the corresponding density; on the other hand, it must be calculated how many impacts are required over which period of time to achieve a corresponding result.

With the tractor beam on towing hook

Even if "Traktorstrahl" sounds like science fiction, behind the effect hides simple physics. Two objects, which attract each other by gravity, exert a force on the respective partner.

If you place a spacecraft over an asteroid, both bodies attract each other. If the spaceship now sits above the surface with the help of its engine and gives a slight boost, the course of the asteroid can be minimally changed.

This is the conclusion reached by the "Committee on Review Near-Earth-Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies Space Studies Board" in its analysis of near-earth objects (NEO).

The advantage of the method is that no physical contact with the celestial body has to be made. This could harbor further dangers, for example the breakup of the object. In addition, the technology would already be available today.

The big disadvantage is the time, because to bring a correspondingly large chunk from its orbit, it can take years.

An awning for the course change

Sail has been using humanity for centuries on the Earth's oceans. But even in space, a sail can serve well, because even from the sun is a "wind" from.

Unlike air movements on Earth, these are charged particles that eject our central star. These particles could be used for asteroid defense if captured with a large awning, as the "Committee to Review Near-Earth-Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies Space Studies Board" notes.

However, this method would have major disadvantages: Firstly, the deflection of the asteroid is difficult to calculate, since the solar wind does not blow continuously, on the other hand, the method takes a lot of time.

In addition, a spaceship would first have to reach the asteroid and physically anchor the sail to the celestial body. But the sun could also be helpful in other ways.

Course correction with spray paint or laser bullet

Comets are no unknown in the solar system. Frozen ice balls thaw on their way to the sun, trailing a thousand-kilometer-long tail.

This tail consists of particles that detach from the comet. These particles could also be helpful in asteroid defense.

As the "Committee to Review Near-Earth-Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies Space Studies Board" found in an analysis, a laser or sunlight bundled by a reflector could blow out parts of the asteroid. This would lead to a material ejection with recoil, similar to a small nozzle.

Also conceivable is the coloring of the surface. The sunlight would have to heat the material directly at this point, which could also result in a small eruption.

But as with the other methods, the early detection of the danger and the duration of the mission also play a major role here. For short-term threats, this method is not suitable.

Brachial method of nuclear strike

If an asteroid is already very close to Earth or discovered too late, the last option is the use of nuclear weapons. The Planetary Defense Conference concluded in 2009 that nuclear explosive devices are probably the only way to change the orbit of a one-kilometer object in a short time.

However, the technique has not been applied and tested in space - and for good reason: The researchers point out in their analysis, political and legal concerns regarding the use of nuclear weapons in space.

In addition, depending on the method, the bombarded object could be destroyed and lead to far greater damage on the planet.

That's why the researchers' advice is clear: the sooner an asteroid is discovered, the sooner humanity can develop and deploy the necessary technologies to save itself and the Earth.

But so far the means of asteroid research are limited. If this underfunding does not change, humanity could soon share the fate of the dinosaurs. Because it is not the question if an asteroid will hit the earth, but when.

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