. Scientific Frontline: Earth Is Safe: Astronomers Conducted a "Space Exercise"

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Earth Is Safe: Astronomers Conducted a "Space Exercise"

Today, the distance from Apophis to Earth is 0.88 astronomical units, or almost 132 million km.
Photo: Eyes on Asteroids / NASA

More than 100 astronomers from 18 countries conducted a "space exercise". They joined their efforts to simulate the approach to the Earth of a dangerous asteroid and to estimate the probability of collision. Employees of the Kourovka Astronomical Observatory of the UrFU also took part in the project: Eduard Kuznetsov, Dmitry Glamazda, Galina Kaiser, Aleksandr Perminov and Yulia Vibe. The study was led by experts from NASA and the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN). The results are published in the Planetary Science Journal.

The asteroid Apophis, which was approaching Earth from December 2020 to March 2021, was taken as a sample of the potential threat. According to the "exercises", all data on Apophis were "forgotten", and scientists had to detect the asteroid again, determine its coordinates, speed, trajectory and many other parameters, as well as estimate the probability of collision with the Earth, the strength (energy) of the hit, which can cause an asteroid like Apophis. By common efforts it was even possible to determine the general composition of the asteroid and the properties of its surface. It was crucial, however, to understand how far in advance scientists were able to detect and how quickly they could classify extraterrestrial bodies that could pose a danger to the Earth.

"This is a test of coordination between organizations around the world - how quickly and well we are able to exchange data, correctly analyze and interpret it. In addition, all organizations have different instruments for observations, which are located in different parts of the world. Therefore, first of all, the observations were made continuously, because when it was night in one hemisphere, it was day in the other and vice versa, and the data ended up being "volumetric". Less precise observations were just as useful as data from high-precision instruments," Eduard Kuznetsov, Lead Researcher at the Kourovka Astronomical Observatory at Ural Federal University, said about the project.

During the "exercise," researchers collected data in Australia, Chile, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, Spain, USA, Africa, Korea, even in high-Earth orbit. All information was sent to the coordination center of NASA for processing. Employees of the Kourovka Astronomical Observatory Ural Federal University conducted observations with an SBG telescope and determined the exact position of the asteroid (object coordinates), estimated its brightness (based on data on the brightness and its change determine the size, shape of an extraterrestrial body and its rotation speed) and other indicators.

"Watching the planetary defense community come together during the last close approach to Apophis was impressive. Even during the pandemic, when many exercise, participants were forced to work remotely, we were able to detect, track, and learn more about the potential danger with great efficiency. The exercise was a resounding success," said Michael Kelly, a PDCO scientist in NASA's Planetary Science Division who led the exercise participants.

To recall, relatively recently Apophis was considered the most dangerous asteroid, as it was believed that there is a probability of its collision with the Earth (the approach will occur in 2029 and in 2036). Apophis is 350 meters in diameter and weighs about 27 million tons. For comparison, the diameter of the Chelyabinsk meteorite was only 17 meters.

"Dealing with Earth-threatening bodies is a serious matter. If a collision is inevitable, thermonuclear missiles are unlikely to help, because in the case of impact the extraterrestrial body will simply disintegrate into separate pieces, which will fly along the same trajectory. And instead of one big impact there will be many "small" ones. The only reliable way to prevent a collision is to change the trajectory of the asteroid in advance. To do this, however, objects must be detected in advance, which is why such work is carried out. In the case of Apophis, after the observations that we have, we know for sure: in the next 200 years, the asteroid will not collide with the Earth," states Eduard Kuznetsov.


NASA's planetary defense community has been conducting observational campaigns since 2017. During that time, they have organized three such surveys. This time, "Operation Apophis" took place under the auspices of the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN), which was created by the United Nations in 2013 to coordinate organizations involved in detecting, tracking and characterizing near-Earth objects. As a result of these exercises, astronomers not only update data, but also draw conclusions about teamwork, observational ability, and modeling of potential impacts. In addition, scientists help governments analyze the effects of an asteroid impact and plan mitigation measures.

Source/Credit: Ural Federal University


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