The Solar System and the Asteroid Threat
On September 11-13, 2013, an international seminar “The Solar System and the Asteroid Threat” will take place at the HSE. Mark Boslough, Professor at the University of New Mexico and a member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories, and Roberto Furfaro, Professor at the University of Arizona and the head of the Space Systems Engineering Laboratory, will speak on the issues. The event is being organized by the Research Laboratory of Space Research, Technologies, Systems, and Processes at the HSE. Mark Boslough gave a special interview to the HSE news service.
— The joint project " Space Exploration and Technology" is partly devoted to the development of managed space missions and missions of protection when the asteroid and comet impact hazard. Most people usually think of asteroid danger while watching a horror movie or a film like Melanholia by Lars von Trier. How could you describe your research project to non-scientists?
— My research in this area has primarily involved the phenomenon known as airbursts. These are explosive events that are caused by the conversion of kinetic energy to thermal energy when a small asteroid or comet interacts only with an atmosphere but is not large enough to reach the ground intact to form a large crater. The most famous example of a terrestrial airburst is the 1908 Tunguska event, which I think was caused but an asteroid about 40 meters in diameter with an effective explosive yield equivalent to about 3 to 5 Megatons. The explosion over Chelyabinsk was caused by an asteroid with a mass about 10% as big as the Tunguska object, so it was only about 10% as powerful. Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which was discovered 20 years ago and collided with Jupiter in 1994, is an example of an airburst on another planet. This event helped us understand the airburst phenomenon and how important it is to include it as part of the NEO threat to our own planet.
— You said that the meteorite in Сhelyabinsk on February, 15, 2013 was going to be a benchmark and the first steps after that was building a computer model of this event. Did it happen already? Have you been involved in computer modeling of the fiery trail and blast? Could you please provide some update on that largest after Toungouska meteorite?
— I consider this to be a benchmark because, unlike Tunguska, it is so well documented and observational data can be used to guide and validate the computer models. We are in the process of modeling this event, and are working to make sure that our models agree with the data in all respects. This is work in progress and our models continue to improve. We hope to publish our preliminary results soon.
— You believe that comet and asteroid impact risk—at its core—is primarily a climate-change risk. You raise scientific and public attention to climate change as a looming national security threat. What international steps should be undertaken to avoid that threat? How do you see a role of researchers in this process?
— In the earliest comet and asteroid impact probabilistic risk assessment papers, back in the early 1990s, scientists recognized that the largest contribution to the overall threat was from asteroids greater than about 1.5 km in diameter because they would be expected to cause a global ecological collapse due to a “nuclear winter” type climate change. Even though the exact mechanism of global catastrophe was not (and is still not) completely understood, it was recognized that climate disruption was the primary cause. I argue that we should apply the same conventional probabilistic risk assessment methods to human-caused global warming that we apply to the asteroid threat. The primary focus should be on reducing the likelihood of global catastrophe by minimizing human-caused changes to the atmosphere that damage its ability to maintain a stable climate and habitable planet.
— How is your cooperation with Russian researchers being developed? What are your expectations and goals on joint work with the HSE colleagues in Moscow?
— I have attended many international meetings on planetary defense and the science of impacts and airbursts (including a 2008 conference in Moscow on the centennial of the Tunguska event). I have exchanged information with my Russian colleagues on the nature of airbursts and their contribution to the impact threat. I think the Chelyabinsk event provides an opportunity to relate computer models to observations, and hope to work with my Russian colleagues to understand it and reduce the threat from similar airbursts in the future.
Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE news service
A team of Russian researchers from HSE University, the Russian Space Research Institute, and the Pushkov Institute of Terrestrial Magnetism (Russian Academy of Sciences) has described the development of modulational instability of electromagnetic waves in dusty ionospheric plasma, which is caused by a high intensity of electromagnetic emissions. The researchers considered inelastic collisions of ionospheric plasma particles and formulated new tasks and applications to be addressed at a later stage. The results are published in the Physics of Plasmas journal.
On Cosmonautics Day, the HSE News Service spoke with the participants of the CubSX-HSE project, which recently launched a satellite into Earth orbit. Students and staff from the HSE Moscow Institute of Electronics and Mathematics (MIEM) spoke about their project and impressions of their trip to Baikonur.
During the ‘Big Challenges’ session at the Sirius Educational Centre, five high school students, under the supervision of mentors from MIEM HSE, assembled a small artificial earth satellite. The participants of the research session were young finalists of a nationwide competition held by the educational centre. All five of the students are Olympiad champions and team members of large-scale projects.
The results of recent study conducted by the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the agency’s automatic interplanetary station, show the existence of a ‘permafrost’ near the poles of the Moon with a relatively high content of water ice (up to 5% by weight). It is believed that water ice could supply a life support system for the future Russian Lunar Station and that it could also produce hydrogen-oxygen fuel for flights into deep space.
Researchers from the Higher School of Economics and Space Research Institute (Russia) have calculated the main parameters that determine space weather close to the nearest Earth-like exoplanet, Proxima Centauri b. Such parameters include solar wind, as well as galactic and solar cosmic rays. The results of the research were published in Astronomy Letters.
The big scanning antenna at the Pushchino Radio Astronomy Observatory logs almost 90 GB of data every day. The data are usually processed by the astronomers manually. Vladimir Samodurov and Alexander Gorbunov, researchers at the HSE Faculty of Business and Management, decided to relieve the scholars from this hard work and give this job to neural networks. They shared the results of their work in the paper ‘Perspectives of intellectual processing of large volumes of astronomical data using neural networks’.
Researchers from the Laboratory of Methods for Big Data Analysis (LAMBDA) at the Higher School of Economics have improved their way of analyzing ultra-high energy cosmic rays (UHECR) with the use of mobile phones. The work has been carried out as part of the CRAYFIS experiment and the results were presented at the 22nd International Conference on Computing in High Energy and Nuclear Physics.
The Higher School of Economics is welcoming its first class of students to the Faculty of Physics. The new faculty is unique in that it fosters a close relationship between education and science. At the Space Research Institute, for instance, future master’s students will create devices to study space plasma, analyse data from satellites, and learn to determine space weather.
HSE’s Moscow Institute of Electronics and Mathematics has opened a university Microsatellite Flight Control Center. Its main goal is to offer students practical experience with small space devices that work in near-earth orbits. It was created jointly with the company Sputniks.
At the end of July, Professor Andrey Tyutnev of HSE’s Moscow Institute of Electronics and Mathematics (MIEM) became the only Russian presenter at the13th Spacecraft Charging Technology Conference organized in California under the auspices of NASA. Professor Tyutnev presented two reports prepared with colleagues from the Higher School of Economics and the Lavochkin Research and Production Association.