Europe sets up asteroid detection centre

2013-05-28 11:29
In this photo taken with a mobile phone camera, a meteorite contrail is seen in Chelyabinsk region. (Sergey Hametov, AP)

In this photo taken with a mobile phone camera, a meteorite contrail is seen in Chelyabinsk region. (Sergey Hametov, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

kalahari.com

Rome - The European Space Agency (ESA) has set up an office to help provide early warnings when the Earth is about to be struck by natural objects such as asteroids.

The potential danger was starkly demonstrated in February by the explosion of a meteor above Russia's central Chelyabinsk region, shattering windows over a wide area and reportedly injuring some 1 200 people.

Called the NEO (Near-Earth Object) Co-ordination Centre, the new facility is part of ESA's European Space Research Institute (Esrin), located in Frascati, Italy, near Rome.

"It's of the utmost importance that asteroids be detected as early as possible so that their path can be ascertained," said Detlef Koschny, a planetary scientist and head of the NEO segment of ESA's Space Situational Awareness (SSA) Programme.

"What's now being brought together and combined in Frascati is the first step toward a European system."

Focus point

According to Koschny, information will be pooled primarily from the Near-Earth Objects Dynamic Site (NEODyS) database operated by Space Dynamics Services S.r.l. at the University of Pisa along with data from other systems and sensors.

He said the Frascati centre would also serve as the focus point for scientific studies needed to improve NEO warning services and provide near real-time data to European and international customers.

Nearly 10 000 asteroids or comets are known to have orbits close to that of the Earth's.

They make up a fraction of all such objects in our solar system. Astronomers are aware of some 90% of the really large and dangerous near-Earth objects: One with a diameter of more than 1km would cause immense damage if it struck our planet.

"That's our rate with objects that are sufficiently large," Koschny said. "For smaller objects, with a diameter of 100m to 200m, we're not quite as good yet, unfortunately."

Only a small percentage of the smaller objects have been detected and therefore have calculable orbits, he noted, pointing out that the impact of even a "small" NEO, for example in the ocean, could trigger a devastating tsunami.

What action can be taken if a space threat is identified?

Possibilities

"If the asteroid is smaller than 100m in diameter, you run away, an evacuation is necessary," Koschny remarked. As for larger objects, he said it was important that they be detected a few years ahead of impact so that appropriate protective measures could be decided.

To deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth, a spacecraft could conceivably be launched to hit it.

Another theoretical possibility is use of what is known as a gravitational tractor, a massive spacecraft that hovers near the asteroid for years and gradually "tows" it off course with the help of thrusters and the bodies' mutual gravitational attraction.

"I'm confident we'll detect large asteroids years in advance - in time, that is," Koschny said.

A final possibility, he added, is blasting the oncoming asteroid off course with a nuclear explosion. While controversial, detonating an atomic bomb in space might someday be considered as the only way to save Earth from widespread destruction.
- SAPA
Read more on:    space  |  astronomy
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News
Traffic & Train Alerts
Traffic
Cape Town 07:34 AM
Road name: N1 Inbound

DELAYS between Lower Church Street and the Waterfront exit via the Elevated Freeway

Cape Town 07:33 AM
Road name: N1 Inbound

DELAYS between Century City and the M5 Koeberg Interchange

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Save up to 30% off top fragrances

Get mind blowing savings on selected fragrances. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 40% off fashion accessories

Save up to 40% on selected handbags, purses, watches, jewellery and more. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Save up to R2000 on top electronics

Get every day mind bowing savings on top electronics. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Save up to 50% on Women’s month treats!

Celebrate the awesome women in your life with awesome treats like beauty products, fashion accessories, bestselling books, electronics and more. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 60% off - clearance sale!

Save up to 60% on appliances, books, electronics, toys, movies and more. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

Today you may want to bond with your children and need to connect to your imaginative and playful side. It may be that you are...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.