World Asteroid Day raises awareness of a deadly menace
June 30th marked theworld's first Asteroid Day – a global awareness campaigndesigned to promote an understanding of the dangers presented by therocky bodies, and how best to protect our planet from a potentiallycatastrophic asteroid impact. Significantly, thecampaign was held on the anniversary of the 1908 Tunguska asteroidstrike – an impact that devastated eight hundred square miles ofSiberian forest, and served as a powerful indicator of the damagethat could be wrought by just one of the 600,000 plus known asteroidswhizzing around our solar system.
June saw ESA's sixmember states participate in a workshop on asteroid impactpreparedness in the wake of the February 2013 Chelyabinsk asteroidstrike, which caused significant damage to the city.The workshop focused on information distribution and lines ofcommunication between various governmental channels, which would bevital for disseminating safety information to the general public.
"In the event of athreat, we need to clearly establish roles and responsibilities forthe impact zone," states Nicolas Bobrinsky, Head of ESA’s SpaceSituational Awareness program. "Clear planning is thekey to improved public safety."
Organizations acrossthe globe are already employed in the task of tracking potentiallydangerous asteroids, but a growing number of astronauts, scientistsand technology leaders believe that these efforts are insufficient.Therefore, on AsteroidDay, people from all walks of life were invited to sign the 100xDeclaration and make their voices heard alongside theexperts. The petition urges a hundred-fold increase in detectioncapabilities, allowing for the discovery and tracking of 100,000 near-Earth asteroids per year, to be put in place over a 10-yearperiod, and a global adoption of Asteroid Day so as to better informthe general public.
But just tracking aharmful object isn't enough to safeguard mankind and every otherspecies present on planet Earth. We must also learn to defendourselves. One mission concept that would test key technologies thatcould one day shield us from an extraterrestrial threat is ESA'sAsteroid Impact Mission (AIM).
Should concept becomereality, the AIM spacecraft will need to be ready for launch in October 2020 inorder to intercept the target binary asteroid system, Didymos, at itsclosest proximity to Earth, with an expected arrival date at the ofJune 2022.
If all goes to plan,AIM will succeed in establishing an orbit around the smaller of thetwo bodies, Didymoon, and perform in-depth visual thermal and radarmapping of the asteroid down to a 1-meter resolution.
Currently only in thedesign phase, AIM would seek to better understand the great menace,and asses the potential of deflecting a hazardous asteroid viaa kinetic impactor. The kinetic impactor in this case will come inthe form of NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), whichwill crash into the asteroid at a speed of 6 km per sec (3.7 milesper sec).
Once DART has impactedon the surface of Didymoon, AIM, having deployed six CubeSats and alander in order to maximize scientific potential, will make detailedobservations of any effects that the collision had on the trajectoryand structure of the rocky body. Whilst this may sound like a humblestarting point, forerunner missions such as AIM and DART could oneday provide an effective shield with which to safeguard the humanrace.
The AIM mission is setto be put before the ESA Council of Ministers in November 2016 forconcept approval.
ESA'sshort Q & A video on the asteroid threat can be seen below.
Source: Asteroid Day