Chinese scientists are planning to launch more than 20 rockets in space to deflect the impact of the asteroid Bennu which carries with it a small chance that one day it may end life on Earth.
Their target is the asteroid Bennu, an 85.5 million-ton (77.5 million-ton) US space rock that is on track to swoop within 4.6 million miles (7.5 million kilometers). ) from Earth’s orbit between 2175 and 2199.
Although the possibility that the asteroid Bennu hits The Earth is low – only 1 in 2,700 -, the asteroid is as wide as the Empire State Building is tall, which means that any collision with Earth would be catastrophic.
The estimated kinetic energy ofimpact asteroid Bennu with Earth is 1,200 megatons, which is approx 80,000 times greater than the energy of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. For comparison, the space rock that wiped out the dinosaurs provided about 100 million megatons of energy, according to earlier reports by Live Science.
Scientists at China’s National Space Science Center have calculated that to deflect the asteroid away from a fatal path of nearly 6,000 miles (9,000 km) – 1.4 times the radius of the Earth – would be 23 Long March rockets required 5, each weighing 992 tons (900 tons), pushing simultaneously against the rock.
Their calculations are detailed in a new study published in the next issue of November 1st of the Icarus magazine.
“Asteroid impacts pose a serious threat to all life on Earth and deflecting an asteroid on an impact trajectory is essential to mitigate this threat “
he wrote Mingtao Li, a space science engineer from the Beijing National Space Science Center e lead author of the new study.
The Chinese scientists’ plan would circumvent the need to stop the asteroid by more direct, but riskier means, such as the atomic bomb method popularized by Bruce Willis in the movie “Armageddon”. In reality, bombarding the incoming space rock would break it into several smaller pieces that could still collide with Earth, leading to devastating consequences.
Has China only thought of a way to divert the route of asteroid Bennu?
The Chinese plan follows a similar but slightly more expensive past proposal made by the United States. The plan of NASA, called Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response (HAMMER), would send a fleet of 30-foot-tall spacecraft with rams to take the asteroid off course.
NASA simulations suggest that 34-53 hits from the HAMMER probe, launched 10 years before Bennu collides with Earth, would be needed to move the asteroid. NASA and ESA (European Space Agency), it will be le first to test a new method of moving asteroids in two joint missions that will start on November 24 this year.
The first mission and the DART (Double Asteroid Redirection) of NASA, which will send a spacecraft that, within a year, will arrive at the Didymos asteroid system – 7 million miles (11 million kilometers) away – and, once there, the NASA spacecraft will crash into the moon of Didymos, a rock orbiting the asteroid.
There ESA mission instead, named Hera, will monitor the entire DART operation, so as to see how and if it has moved the moon off course, in a nutshell it will be the visual support that will actually determine if the operation will be successful or not and if therefore it can also be used with the asteroid Bennu .
Bennu is a type B asteroid, which means it contains high amounts of carbon and potentially many of the primordial molecules present when life emerged on Earth.
NASA has already sent a spacecraft, called Osiris-Rex, looking for samples on the asteroid Bennu, the latter arrived above the asteroid in October 2020, floating above it long enough to pick up loose pieces from its surface with its 3 m (10 ft) arm.
Osiris-Rex is expected to return to Earth in 2023, with the loot obtained from the harvest operation on the asteroid Bennu.
The rockets Long March 5 are the workhorses of the Chinese space program, completing most deliveries to the Chinese space station and launching probes to Mars and the moon.
However, rockets have caused no small concern in the past due to their uncontrolled return to Earth, most recent in May, with the 22.5-ton (20-ton) section of a Long March 5 rocket crashing to Earth, burning or landing in the sea near the Arabian Peninsula.
This, sadly, would not be the first time as, in May of last year, a Long March 5B rocket crashed through the atmosphere, partially burning on its descent, previously reported by LiveScience.
The nucleus on that occasion fell largely in theAtlantic Ocean, but some debris also got in West Africa.
According to South China Morning Post, some pieces of debris are there crashed into inhabited villages in the Ivory Coast, although fortunately no casualties were reported.
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