A Close Shave with DA14

 

I am sure there were many women around the globe who were wishing for a ‘big rock’ for valentine’s day yesterday however I am pretty sure this is not what they had in mind. An asteroid that goes by the name DA14 will narrowly miss earth tonight as it casually cruises by 17,200 miles of earth. Yes, I know 17,200 miles may seem like a cosmic distance but don’t be fooled, this 150 foot wide asteroid will have made a grand entrance into the Guinness book of records with it being the closest encounter with an asteroid ever predicted. In fact it’s that close that at its closest point it will be within orbit of excess of 100 telecommunication and weather satellites.

Don’t worry we are safe…or are we?

 

Astronomers are said to be 99.9% confident that we are safe from an Armageddon type scenario. So don’t worry Bruce, we won’t be sending you up in a space shuttle again any time soon to be exploding any asteroids.

However breaking news this morning reports that Russia has been left in devastation as a meteor shower rained down over the Chelyabinsk region, injuring over 500 people. The meteorite disintegrated above Urals, breaking up in the lower earth’s atmosphere. Reports from the Emergency minister claim that as of 14:30 Moscow time, 514 people sort out medical attention with 112 of these being hospitalised.

Apparently this crafty meteorite used the sun to remain undetected until it was too late. Witnesses of the event said that the explosion of impact was so loud it seemed like an earthquake and thunder strike had happened at the same time.

In a nutshell what would happen if this Asteroid was to hit?

 

I think it goes without saying that this would be bad news. To first answer this question we have to figure out how much energy the asteroid could potentially release upon impact. This will involve some very complicated working out so I hope you have all brushed up on your advanced math.

 

Looking below we can see the equation used to work this out:

Σ(2r+3) = 6Σr + 3Σ(8) (r = 1…n)

=5n(n+7)/2 + 1n

Ok that is interesting, are you getting the same answer as me? No? Ok let me simplify this equation for you:

Big asteroid + Impact with earth = Very Bad.

Lucky for us three very clever scientists asked themselves the very same question back in 2010. Their calculations shown that the impact would have 3.3 megatons of kinetic energy and an airburst energy of around 2.9 megatons, 5.2 miles from the surface. This energy can be compared to around 138 atomic bombs similar to the one dropped in Hiroshima back in 1945.

Now imagine this kinetic energy being released upon the major cities of the world including New York, London, Tokyo or Moscow. Frightening right? However if we step back for a moment we would realise that such an event would be quite rare as these cities as big as they are, are only a small dot compared to the vast surface area of the earth.

Could we defend against such an event?

There have been countless proposals on how we could defend our precious little marble from such an attack. But during these troubled economic times such projects struggle to make it past the drawing board as they are likely to cost in excess of millions, if not billions of pounds. Let’s take a look at some of the top ideas suggested:

Go Nuclear

We could send a nuclear projectile to the asteroid which would blow it into millions of little pieces. This however has its consequences in that the small pieces could rain over earth causing a shower of destruction. Hmmm this might not be the best idea after all…

Go Nuclear…Plan B

Rather than actually blowing up the asteroid we could try and give it a gentle nudge off its path. By exploding a nuclear missile near the big rock we could hope to change the trajectory and reroute it. Again though the drawback to this plan is that this would have to happen decades before it reached us so early detection would be vital to the success of this plan.

Rocket Power

This idea would involve landing spaceships on the asteroid (quite a tricky feat) and then firing up the engines to propel the asteroid off course.

Use Our Good Old Friend Gravity

As we all know every object exerts a gravitational pull. By hovering over an asteroid experts believe this could pull the rock off course. Obviously the bigger the spacecraft the better as it would exert a greater pull.

Lasers

In something that we would be more likely to be seen in a Star Wars movie, we could use a small team of ships which could fire lasers at the giant rock resulting in a trail of debris changing its path.

Harness the Power Of Sun

By attaching solar sails to the earth destroyer, a photon catching sail could just be enough to change the direction of the rock, if only by a little.

Paint Ball

 

This one is my favourite and whoever came up with this in- genius idea deserves a good pat on the back. By manoeuvring a spaceship close to the asteroid two volleys of paint pellets could be used to cover the asteroid in white (or light) coloured powder. The first volley would be used to cover one half whilst the over covering the opposite side. The idea behind this is with the rock brightened, increasing its albedo, the suns radiation would more forcefully push upon it which would result in it changing its trajectory. Think about it according to Newtonian physics when something bounces off something, the first something gives the second something a push. Also an added bonus to this approach is that when the volleys are fired the impact from the paint would also slightly give the asteroid a slight nudge…every little helps.

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