Curtin University-led research on the life and age of an ancient asteroid made of rocky debris and dust has made important discoveries that could help save the planet if it launches towards Earth. An international team has studied three tiny dust particles collected from the surface of the ancient 500-metre (1,600-foot) asteroid Itokawa, which was returned to Earth by the Japan Space Agency’s Hayabusa-1 probe.
The results of the study showed that the Itokawa asteroid, located 2 million kilometers from Earth and about the size of Sydney Harbor Bridge, is difficult to destroy and resistant to collisions. Lead author Professor Fred Jourdan, director of the Western Australian Argon Isotope Facility, part of the John de Leter Center and School of Earth and Planetary Sciences in Curtin, said the team also found that Itokawa is almost as old as the Solar System.
“Unlike monolithic asteroids, Itokawa is not a single piece of rock, but belongs to the rubble family, meaning it is made entirely of loose rocks and boulders and is almost half empty space,” said Professor Jourdain.
“The survival time of Itokawa-sized monolithic asteroids is estimated to be only a few hundred thousand years in the asteroid belt.
“The major impact that destroyed Itokawa’s monolithic main asteroid and formed Itokawa occurred at least 4.2 billion years ago. Such an astonishingly long survival time for an Itokawa-sized asteroid is due to the shock-absorbing nature of the debris material.
“In short, we discovered that Itokawa is like a giant space pillow that is very difficult to destroy.”
Curtin’s team used two complementary methods to analyze the three dust particles. The first is called electron backscatter diffraction and can measure whether a rock has been hit by any meteorite. The second method, argon-argon dating, is used to determine the date of the asteroid collision.
Co-author Nick Timms, also of Curtin’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said the longevity of debris asteroids was previously unknown and compromised its ability to develop defensive strategies if they were flown towards Earth.
“We set out to answer whether asteroids are impact resistant or if they shatter at the slightest impact,” Associate Professor Timms said. Said.
“Now that we’ve discovered that they can survive most of its history in the solar system, there should be more in the asteroid belt than previously thought, so if a large asteroid is blasting towards Earth, there’s a better chance it will become a pile of rubble.
“The good news is that we can also use this information to our advantage – if the asteroid is detected too late for kinetic propulsion, we can take a potentially more aggressive approach, such as using the shock wave of a nearby nuclear explosion to propel the debris asteroid off course without destroying it. “
Source: Port Altele
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