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Russian nuclear energy agency in search for asteroid protection technologies

July 01, 2018, 6:41 UTC+3 MOSCOW

According to the scientist, Russia is one of the few nations that has both the scientific potential and practical instruments to carry out a project of this kind

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© Yuri Smityuk/TASS

MOSCOW, June 30. /TASS/. Russia’s state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, has launched a research into technologies that would allow to protect the planet from the asteroid and meteorite threat, a senior Russian researcher has told TASS.

"Our study is only a part of the quest to create an asteroid protection system. The priorities here are detection, classification and high-precision monitoring of a celestial body. After that, a bomb should be designed, which would be safe enough during the launch. A carrier rocket will have to be designed, too," said Vladimir Rogachev, the deputy head of the laser physics institute at the Russian Federal Nuclear Center (VNIIEF), part of the Rosatom corporation.

"This is an international task of impressive scope. We have something to offer. But there are also things that we need to borrow," he went on.

"Regretfully, international politics and the current state of international relations necessitate a different format of communications, so we have to wait. But we should not procrastinate: when a dangerous asteroid approaches the Earth, it will be too late," the researcher added.

Rogachev said that VNIIEF scientists have "baked" an artificial chondrite, the most popular type of asteroids, to study its qualities. According to their calculations, if a 200-meter asteroid approaches the Earth, a rocket should be launched approximately a month before the planned impact, to smash the celestial body into small parts that would burn upon entering the atmosphere.

"Yes, some parts will reach the surface of the planet, but, due to their small size, there will be no apocalypse," he said. "This technology would be sufficient to destroy an object similar to the Tunguska meteor."

According to the scientist, Russia is one of the few nations that has both the scientific potential and practical instruments to carry out a project of this kind.

"[In order to run this project], one should have detailed understanding of what a nuclear bomb is and of processes that occur during the blast. United States, China, France, the United Kingdom, possibly, India and Israel have the knowledge. But this is not enough. Those with the knowledge of calculation and technologies are also needed. Besides, one should also master the technology of powerful pulsed lasers. Only Russia’s VNIIEF and US Livermore meet those requirements. Others have either no interest or no technology," Rogachev said.

He said that after scientists shared their experience in a scientific magazine, researchers from the United Kingdom, the United States, South Korea and other nations have demonstrated their interest in the problem.

In less than a century, Russia has witnessed two major meteorite events with great destructive potential.

On June 30, 1908, a powerful explosion ripped through a remote Siberian forest near the Podkamennaya Tunguska river. The blast of up to 50 megatons, which occurred at the height of about 7-10 kilometers, knocked down trees at the area of about 2,000 square km. The broad consensus remains that it was caused by a large cosmic body, like an asteroid or a comet. However, no impact crater or any meteoric remnants were ever found, and the exact cause of the Tunguska Event still remains unclear.

The Chelyabinsk meteorite entered the Earth’s atmosphere on February 15, 2013 at about 07:10 Moscow time, causing a powerful explosion in the atmosphere at an altitude of 23 kilometers. The blast was observed by hundreds of thousands of people in the Urals and north Kazakhstan. It smashed windows in several hundred thousand residential buildings in Chelyabinsk and its outskirts, but caused no major damage or injuries on the ground.

Large fragments of the celestial body were later recovered from the shores and bottom of Lake Chebarkul, 78 kilometers west of Chelyabinsk.

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