As asteroid 2012 DA14 squeaks by Earth, professors at The Johns Hopkins University are available to discuss what we can do to prepare for – or even prevent – such close encounters in the future.
A call to catalog asteroids
Richard Conn Henry, an astrophysicist in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, isn't worried about the asteroid set to whiz by Earth on Friday. Instead, he's grateful for the headline-generating near-miss. "It is helpful, a wake-up call that we should be cataloging all asteroids in case there is one out there with our name on it. If we caught it enough years in advance, we could do something about it." Henry says that the U.S. Air Force monitors asteroids from an observatory in Hawaii to build a catalog of asteroid orbits, watching out for those that might threaten Earth. Henry is available to talk to reporters about how this ounce of prevention is, in the case of this particular asteroid, worth an estimated 130,000 metric tons of cure.
Altering the course of asteroids?
Andrew Cheng, Applied Physics Laboratory
As the number of known asteroids and other near-Earth objects increases, plans on how to deal with a potential threat have grown as well. One new concept is a joint NASA/ESA study called Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA), which includes a spacecraft that would impact – and perhaps alter the orbit of – an asteroid. Andrew Cheng of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory is the U.S. lead for the AIDA study; Cheng also served as the lead scientist for NASA’s Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR), which in 2000-2001 became the first mission to orbit and land on an asteroid.
Rocks, Shocks and Asteroids
K.T. Ramesh, Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering
Our increasingly populated planet is vulnerable to unexpected, rare, but catastrophic "impact events" – including potential collisions with asteroids or meteors – that could forever alter the Earth's surface. A team at the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute has developed a computer model for the impact and disruption of asteroids to help protect against a planetary impact event. "Major impact events have the potential to create global catastrophes," said K.T. Ramesh, the Alonzo G. Decker Jr. Professor of Science and Engineering in the university’s Whiting School of Engineering and founding director of HEMI. "It is highly likely that the next destructive impact event on Earth will be a low-altitude airburst from an asteroid similar to 2012 DA14." Ramesh says that it is hard to predict exactly what would happen to life as we know it if an asteroid were to suddenly slam into the surface of the Earth; the destruction would depend on both the asteroid itself as well as where it hits – sea, land or urban environment. To account for all those variables, the HEMI approach uses what the team calls "impact science," a multidisciplinary field which pulls together the various changes that occur when large amounts of energy suddenly interact with natural and human structures. While Ramesh cautions that our understanding of material behavior at such a large scale is limited and marked by uncertainty, HEMI's computer model could quite literally help the world prepare for the next big thing. Ramesh will be presenting some of the team's findings next month at the 44th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.
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