Every day Earth is hit by around 100 tonnes of cosmic material, most of it comes in the form of dust or small rocks, which burn up as meteors in the atmosphere. Sometimes, however, larger objects, asteroids or comets, enter the Earth’s atmosphere and then even relatively small objects can cause considerable damage. The object that exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in February 2013 had a diameter of only 17–20 m, yet it produced a blast wave that damaged buildings and injured some 1500 people. It entered the Earth’s atmosphere with a velocity of 65 000 km/h and, due to the frictional heating and stresses caused by compression of the air, it exploded at an altitude of some 25 km releasing an energy 30 times that of the Hiroshima bomb. The potentially devastating effects on Earth of a collision with a large asteroid or comet are now well recognized by scientists and policy makers. So the question is now, can we protect our civilization from the next major impact?
NEOShield, a project funded by the European Commission’ Seventh Framework Programme, has brought together an international team of 13 partner organizations from 6 countries to address the global issue of near-Earth object (NEO) impact prevention. The project runs from 2012 to mid 2015. The NEOShield-2 project supported by the European Commission' Horizon 2020 Program will continue the work until mid 2017.
The purpose of the NEOShield 1 project was to carry out a detailed analysis of realistic options for preventing a potentially catastrophic impact of a NEO on Earth. While a mitigation test mission is beyond the financial scope of the project, the NEOShield technical partners, with the support of the science team, have provided detailed designs of appropriate test-missions for the 3 most feasible mitigation concepts: kinetic impactor, gravity tractor, and blast deflection, so that it will be possible to quickly develop an actual test mission at a later stage.
Project partners are also carrying out research into the mitigation-relevant physical properties of NEOs, including the analysis of available observational data, laboratory experiments on asteroid analogue materials, and modelling and computer simulations. The aim of the scientific work is to facilitate predictions of the outcome of deflection attempts using different techniques on a variety of NEO types.
An overview of the project and results achieved to date will be presented.