NASA have warned us of near-misses from asteroids in the past. More than once, we’ve learned about potentially dangerous space rocks after they’ve already passed us.
But this is a big one.
The American space agency has released details of a near-earth asteroid designated JF1 that is some 420 feet across.
NASA say that there is a small but appreciable chance that JF1 could strike the Earth on May 6, 2022.
While the probability of a collision remains low, the sheer size of JF1 means that it bears very careful monitoring in case its course ifs perturbed by other, as yet unseen, objects in space.
If asteroid JF1, which is roughly the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, were to hit the planet it would strike with a force of 230 kilotons or 230,000 tons of TNT.
The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 liberated energy approximately equivalent to a mere 15 kilotons of TNT.
If JF1 made landfall in a populated area, it would destroy a city instantly, potentially causing millions of deaths, but even if it were to splash down in the remotest part of the Pacific Ocean it would still cause devastating tsunamis and a “nuclear winter” that could severely impact life on Earth.
For that reason JF1 has been flagged for close attention by their near-earth monitoring system, Sentry.
Following remarks from Apollo program veteran Rusty Schweickart, researchers and spacecraft engineers from across Europe and the US are developing a technique on a mission to “steer” an asteroid and “prove the technique as a viable method of planetary defence”.
The first fruit of this research is the Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment [AIDA.]
AIDA will be tasked with to redirecting the smaller half of a double asteroid called Didymos.
In the first stage of the mission, a spacecraft will deliberately crash into the space rock. Then a follow-up mission will assess the crash site and gather data on the effects of the collision.
NASA is already working on a craft called Double Asteroid Impact Test, whilst Italy will send a mini satellite to gather data as the mission progresses.
The European Space Agency [ESA] mission, called Hera, will perform “a close-up survey of the post-impact asteroid,” collecting vital information about such as the asteroid’s composition as well as the size of the crater left behind after impact.
That’s just a nice extra though. Ian Carnelli, controller of the ESA Hera mission concedes that: “DART can perform its mission without Hera – the effect of its impact on the asteroid’s orbit will be measurable using Earth ground-based observatories alone.”
The impact of an asteroid on the Earth, when it eventually happens, won’t need any specialist equipment to be felt.