A method for deciphering the internal structure of asteroids will help target missions to deflect them

(ORDO NEWS) — In late September, NASA launched the DART mission, during which the spacecraft crashed into an asteroid, changing its orbit.

The DART mission was the first test of a planetary defense strategy, demonstrating that scientists could potentially deflect an asteroid heading for Earth.

And now, thanks to researchers at MIT, scientists have a new tool that will allow them to better target new DART-like missions.

The team developed a method for mapping an asteroid’s internal structure (density distribution) based on how the asteroid’s rotation changes as it approaches more massive objects like the Earth.

Knowing how density is distributed inside an asteroid could help scientists plan for the most effective defense.

For example, if an asteroid were made of relatively light and uniform matter, a DART-type spacecraft could aim differently than if it deflected an asteroid with a denser, less balanced interior.

The team is going to apply this method to Apophis, a near-Earth asteroid that is estimated to pose a significant hazard in the event of a collision.

Scientists have so far ruled out the possibility of a collision during the next flybys of Apophis for at least a century.

Jack Dinsmore and Julien de Wit, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The team created the AIME software for mapping the internal structure of asteroids.

AIME can be used to reconstruct the internal density distribution of an asteroid based on observations of changes in its rotation during close encounters.

The researchers say that if scientists can make more detailed measurements of asteroids and their rotational dynamics during such a close encounter, these measurements could be used to improve AIME reconstructions of asteroid interiors.


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