Saving the Earth from Space Rocks: The NEOShield Project
Asteroid 2012 BX34 came within about 37,000 miles of Earth on Friday, January 27, 2012. That’s about 1/6 the distance from here to the moon.
According to associate director of the Minor Planet Center, Gareth Williams, the event was a “near miss” that made “the top 20 list of closest approaches ever observed.”
It was just a close-shave, though, and fairly small. About the size of a bus. That’s not very dangerous as far as asteroids go, but the experience has sparked interest in an international collaboration to prepare us for when a larger asteroid decides to shave a little too close.
It’s called NEOShield, or Near-Earth Object Shield. According to a report by the European Commission, the project examines various ways of deflecting asteroids, specifically three potential methods, which they view as the “most realistic and feasible”:
“…the kinetic impactor, in which a spacecraft transfers momentum to an asteroid by impacting it at a very high velocity; blast deflection, in which an explosive, such as a nuclear device, is detonated near, on, or just beneath the surface of the object; and the gravity tractor, in which a spacecraft hovering under power in close proximity to an asteroid uses the gravitational force between the asteroid and itself to tow the asteroid onto a safe trajectory relative to the Earth.”
The NEOShield project consists of various research institutes and universities from countries around the world, including Germany, France, Spain, the UK, the United States, and Russia.
Hopefully, if all goes well, they’ll be able to figure out a way to prevent this from happening. I’m personally a bit fond of the gravity tractor, myself, but the others sound fine, too.