Bold idea to knock asteroids to Earth
AN ASTEROID hurtling toward Earth sounds like a nightmare scenario - but a bunch of space scientists have hatched a plan to make it happen.
Why? Because capturing the space rocks could allow us to probe them for alien life and even mine them for valuable resources like precious metals.
In a new study, researchers from the University of Glasgow reveal that aerobraking could help them pull off the insane stunt.
Aerobraking is a drag manoeuvre used by spacecraft like the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to change their orbit or speed by using the atmosphere of a planet as a resistance that can pull them down for landing - with the rest left to gravity.
The authors claim that this process could be used to slow down small asteroids enough so that they don't just skim past Earth, but remain in orbit, where they could be mined for platinum or water, according to the journal Science.
Those resources could then be blasted to the International Space Station to supply future missions.
Meanwhile water, they suggest, could be split into hydrogen and oxygen for fuelling purposes.
The high-stakes method will only work on rocks under 30 meters in diameter, claim the boffs, any larger and we may not be able to stop them from hitting Earth - a concern that other scientists have also pointed out.
The smaller asteroids, on the other hand, would burn up in our planet's atmosphere, mitigating the chance of an apocalyptic disaster.
But they admitted that extra care would be needed for a rock made up of denser materials like iron, which may not decompose entirely upon entry.
Fortunately, the entire feat would take place far from Earth and would involve an unmanned spacecraft applying enough force to an asteroid to put it on a path toward us.
This spacecraft could also follow the asteroid on its journey in case any sudden course-corrections are required.
They add that if done at a far enough distance, the gambit wouldn't even take much effort - as a small push from far away would effectively change the angle of an incoming rock.
Each case could be drastically different, however, depending on the size and composition of the asteroid.
That's why they've identified an ideal test subject: the asteroid 2005 VL1. They claim that this space rock is just the right size for such a mission and has the right speed to be redirected.
Whether any space agency in its right mind will take up the task is an entirely different matter.