(ORDO NEWS) — The Japanese automatic interplanetary station Hayabusa-2 successfully delivered a capsule with soil samples from the asteroid Ryugu. But her mission was not limited to this, notes Shūkan Gendai. It turns out that Hayabusa-2 had another secret mission, the goal of which is to protect the Earth.
The automatic interplanetary station Hayabusa-2 has successfully completed its mission, delivering a large amount of soil to Earth from the surface of the asteroid Ryugu. In 2021, a capsule with samples extracted from a crater created on the surface of an asteroid will be opened.
Full-scale studies of these samples are planned to begin around the summer of next year. Their results are expected to help unravel the mystery of the origin of life, as well as the formation of the solar system.
In fact, Hayabusa 2, which surprised the world with its successful asteroid exploration, had a hidden mission that no one even suspected of – protecting the Earth. In the book “The Big Adventure of Hayabusa-2”, the NHK team, which followed the landing of the probe on Ryuga for 2195 days, talks about this mission.
Hidden mission – to protect the Earth
The essence of the hidden mission “Hayabusa-2” is to protect the Earth from meteorites.
We practically do not pay attention to this, but meteorites fall to the Earth every day. Most of them are small, but some celestial bodies cause serious harm. Of the latter, a meteorite is known that fell in the Chelyabinsk region in February 2013.
In the news on television, videos were broadcast from car DVRs and CCTV cameras, which captured a meteorite crossing the sky in the form of a fireball, as well as windows blown out by the blast.
I think many were shocked by this event. According to NASA estimates, an asteroid 17 meters in diameter and weighing ten thousand tons entered the atmosphere at a speed of 18 kilometers per second. About 1,500 people were injured from the broken windows.
When an asteroid even ten meters in diameter falls on the Earth at a tremendous speed, the impact is very powerful. Since the Chelyabinsk meteorite fell in the field, no direct impact damage was reported, but if it happened in a large city, it would be quite significant.
Over the past 100 years, nine meteorites have fallen to Earth, comparable to the Chelyabinsk one or more. If we take into account the fall into the sea, then there were 30 such meteorites.
In other words, every 3.3 years an asteroid with a diameter of more than ten meters crashes into the Earth.
By the way, the most probable theory is that the dinosaurs became extinct 66 million years ago precisely because of the fall of an asteroid about ten kilometers in diameter. It is assumed that asteroids of this size crash into the Earth once in a period from several tens to several hundred million years. But you cannot lose your vigilance. Meteorite collisions are frequent. And it is absolutely not known when humanity may face this danger.
Protection of the Earth from such blows of celestial bodies is called “Space Guard” or “Planetary Protection”. Hayabusa 2 Program Manager Makoto Yoshikawa is one of the scientists working in this field. By the way, he investigated the consequences of the fall of the Chelyabinsk meteorite.
So, why are they pinning hopes on Hayabusa-2 in this area too?
According to the Spaceguard program, asteroids and comets with a perihelion point of 1.3 astronomical units or less are called near-Earth objects.
Asteroids that may collide with the Earth in the near future are called potentially dangerous astronomical objects. These objects are defined as asteroids with a minimum distance of 0.05 astronomical units or less between the Earth’s orbit and the asteroid’s orbit, with a brightness of up to 22 units and a size of 100 meters.
Currently, more than 15 thousand near-Earth objects and more than 1700 potentially dangerous astronomical objects are under observation. The asteroid Ryugu belongs to the second group. In other words, Ryugu may collide with Earth in the future for some reason. By the way, the asteroid Itokawa, explored by the first Hayabusa, is also a potentially dangerous astronomical object.
Can a meteor impact be avoided?
So, what activities are carried out under the Spaceguard program? There are three main steps:
- Early detection of dangerous celestial bodies;
- Exact determination of the asteroid’s orbit and calculation of its position in the future;
- Discussion of anti-collision measures in the event of such a hazard;
- Hayabusa-2’s achievements can already be used for Spaceguard.
The probe landed on Ryuga and conducted a detailed survey. Similarly, you can approach dangerous asteroids and find out their size, density, shape and internal structure. If such information is available, an external force can be calculated to change the trajectory of the meteorite.
In addition, if you apply the knowledge gained in the study of Ryugu, you can find out the same data on the physical characteristics of asteroids, even without landing on them. Thanks to the success of Hayabusa and Hayabusa-2, mankind has received an order of magnitude more information about asteroids. Avoiding collision with celestial bodies is no longer a dream.
Change the orbit of an asteroid by applying black paint to it!
The successful strike of Hayabusa-2 on an asteroid with a metal blank is of great value to the Spaceguard. This is one of the possible ways to change the orbit of celestial bodies.
Naturally, a small piece of metal will not change the trajectory of large asteroids such as Ryugu, which are about one kilometer in diameter. But if the weight and structure of the body are known, then it will be possible to understand which projectile and where to shoot in order to change its trajectory.
At the same time, another approach is being discussed that does not involve the use of a striking element. For example, the use of the force of gravity arising between two approaching bodies. You can try to change the orbit of a dangerous asteroid using the well-known gravity.
When the aircraft approaches the asteroid, a gravitational force arises between them. So the probe can drag the asteroid with it, and its trajectory will change. Meanwhile, this requires significant force, that is, it will be necessary to launch a heavy aircraft.
An even larger asteroid will require an even heavier probe, but the capabilities of modern launch vehicles are limited. Perhaps in the future it will be possible to assemble vehicles in space like a space station.
There is also the option of using sunlight. The point is to paint the asteroid black from the probe, which absorbs the sun’s rays. So the absorbed energy will create thrust and thereby change the orbit of the meteorite.
Moreover, the following method is even being discussed: to capture an asteroid by a network released from an interplanetary station. However, in the case of large celestial bodies, this will also be difficult. It is assumed that this way it is possible to capture only asteroids with a diameter of seven to eight meters. Some ideas may seem strange, but experts are quite serious about protecting our planet.
There is another factor that can protect us from meteorites thanks to the achievements of Hayabusa 2, but it has nothing to do with the exploration of asteroids. These are capsules delivered by an interplanetary station to Earth. They enter the atmosphere at a very high speed. Therefore, the capsule can be considered as a meteorite.
The entry of the capsule into the atmosphere provides a valuable opportunity to conduct an experiment that will help determine the trajectory of the meteorite fall. If we increase the accuracy of the trajectory calculation, then it will be possible to evacuate people in advance. This will help reduce damage from a possible fall of celestial bodies.
Hayabusa 2’s achievements can be widely used for Spaceguard, Yoshikawa emphasizes.
There were ideas of clones “Hayabusa-2”
We talked about the achievements of Hayabusa-2, but in fact there is another mysterious idea associated with this project. She has a lot to do with Space Guard. The point was to launch one more interplanetary station simultaneously with Hayabusa-2.
The first probe arrives at Ryugu and conducts scientific research there. And then a second probe arrives and crashes into the asteroid. The point is to see if the impact will change Ryugu’s orbit.
However, funding was not obtained, and the implementation of the mission came to naught. However, despite this, Hayabusa 2 will still continue to contribute to the Space Guard.
As we noted above, after the capsule was sent to Earth, Hayabusa-2 again moved away from our planet and headed towards another asteroid – 1998KY26. Compared to Ryugu, the size of this asteroid is small – only 30 meters in diameter. According to research data, celestial bodies with a diameter of 30-40 meters crash into the Earth once every 100-200 years.
In 1908, the Tunguska meteorite fell to Earth. Since this happened in Siberia, there was no damage, but in fact the collision was very powerful – trees were felled over an area of two thousand square kilometers. It is assumed that the diameter of the Tunguska meteorite was approximately 60 meters.
Such asteroids with a diameter of several tens of meters did not appear as a result of the merger of numerous rocks, as was the case in the case of Itokawa and Ryugu. Their physical properties are different – it is highly likely that they are monolithic. Such celestial bodies are small, it was difficult to study them from Earth, so there is practically no data on their properties. Hayabusa-2 will be the first vehicle to shed light on such meteorites.
Thanks to the successes of the Japanese interplanetary station, we received information about the means of protecting life from meteorites. Perhaps the space exploration technologies acquired through the Hayabusa-2 mission will protect humanity in the future.
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