SciCombinator

Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Near-Earth object

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Large meteors (or superbolides [Ceplecha Z, et al. (1999) Meteoroids 1998:37-54]), although rare in recorded history, give sobering testimony to civilization’s inherent vulnerability. A not-so-subtle reminder came on the morning of February 15, 2013, when a large meteoroid hurtled into the Earth’s atmosphere, forming a superbolide near the city of Chelyabinsnk, Russia, ∼1,500 km east of Moscow, Russia [Ivanova MA, et al. (2013) Abstracts of the 76th Annual Meeting of the Meteoritical Society, 5366]. The object exploded in the stratosphere, and the ensuing shock wave blasted the city of Chelyabinsk, damaging structures and injuring hundreds. Details of trajectory are important for determining its specific source, the likelihood of future events, and potential mitigation measures. Earth-viewing environmental satellites can assist in these assessments. Here we examine satellite observations of the Chelyabinsk superbolide debris trail, collected within minutes of its entry. Estimates of trajectory are derived from differential views of the significantly parallax-displaced [e.g., Hasler AF (1981) Bull Am Meteor Soc 52:194-212] debris trail. The 282.7 ± 2.3° azimuth of trajectory, 18.5 ± 3.8° slope to the horizontal, and 17.7 ± 0.5 km/s velocity derived from these satellites agree well with parameters inferred from the wealth of surface-based photographs and amateur videos. More importantly, the results demonstrate the general ability of Earth-viewing satellites to provide valuable insight on trajectory reconstruction in the more likely scenario of sparse or nonexistent surface observations.

Concepts: Atmosphere, Russia, Meteorite, Comet, Meteoroid, Meteoroids, Near-Earth object

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Most large (over a kilometre in diameter) near-Earth asteroids are now known, but recognition that airbursts (or fireballs resulting from nuclear-weapon-sized detonations of meteoroids in the atmosphere) have the potential to do greater damage than previously thought has shifted an increasing portion of the residual impact risk (the risk of impact from an unknown object) to smaller objects. Above the threshold size of impactor at which the atmosphere absorbs sufficient energy to prevent a ground impact, most of the damage is thought to be caused by the airburst shock wave, but owing to lack of observations this is uncertain. Here we report an analysis of the damage from the airburst of an asteroid about 19 metres (17 to 20 metres) in diameter southeast of Chelyabinsk, Russia, on 15 February 2013, estimated to have an energy equivalent of approximately 500 (±100) kilotons of trinitrotoluene (TNT, where 1 kiloton of TNT = 4.185×10(12) joules). We show that a widely referenced technique of estimating airburst damage does not reproduce the observations, and that the mathematical relations based on the effects of nuclear weapons-almost always used with this technique-overestimate blast damage. This suggests that earlier damage estimates near the threshold impactor size are too high. We performed a global survey of airbursts of a kiloton or more (including Chelyabinsk), and find that the number of impactors with diameters of tens of metres may be an order of magnitude higher than estimates based on other techniques. This suggests a non-equilibrium (if the population were in a long-term collisional steady state the size-frequency distribution would either follow a single power law or there must be a size-dependent bias in other surveys) in the near-Earth asteroid population for objects 10 to 50 metres in diameter, and shifts more of the residual impact risk to these sizes.

Concepts: Mars, Thermodynamics, Estimation, Impact event, Shock wave, Asteroid, Meteoroid, Near-Earth object

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The impact of a near-Earth object (NEO) may release large amounts of energy and cause serious damage. Several NEO hazard studies conducted over the past few years provide forecasts, impact probabilities and assessment ratings, such as the Torino and Palermo scales. These high-risk NEO assessments involve several criteria, including impact energy, mass, and absolute magnitude. The main objective of this paper is to provide the first Multi-Criteria Decision Making (MCDM) approach to classify hazardous NEOs. Our approach applies a combination of two methods from a widely utilized decision making theory. Specifically, the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) methodology is employed to determine the criteria weights, which influence the decision making, and the Technique for Order Performance by Similarity to Ideal Solution (TOPSIS) is used to obtain a ranking of alternatives (potentially hazardous NEOs). In addition, NEO datasets provided by the NASA Near-Earth Object Program are utilized. This approach allows the classification of NEOs by descending order of their TOPSIS ratio, a single quantity that contains all of the relevant information for each object.

Concepts: Decision making, Risk, Decision theory, Decision making software, Operations research, Analytic Hierarchy Process, Analytical hierarchy, Near-Earth object

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Following the 2013 Chelyabinsk event, the risks posed by asteroids attracted renewed interest, from both the scientific and policy-making communities. It reminded the world that impacts from near-Earth objects (NEOs), while rare, have the potential to cause great damage to cities and populations. Point estimates of the risk (such as mean numbers of casualties) have been proposed, but because of the low-probability, high-consequence nature of asteroid impacts, these averages provide limited actionable information. While more work is needed to further refine its input distributions (e.g., NEO diameters), the probabilistic model presented in this article allows a more complete evaluation of the risk of NEO impacts because the results are distributions that cover the range of potential casualties. This model is based on a modularized simulation that uses probabilistic inputs to estimate probabilistic risk metrics, including those of rare asteroid impacts. Illustrative results of this analysis are presented for a period of 100 years. As part of this demonstration, we assess the effectiveness of civil defense measures in mitigating the risk of human casualties. We find that they are likely to be beneficial but not a panacea. We also compute the probability-but not the consequences-of an impact with global effects (“cataclysm”). We conclude that there is a continued need for NEO observation, and for analyses of the feasibility and risk-reduction effectiveness of space missions designed to deflect or destroy asteroids that threaten the Earth.

Concepts: Evaluation, Earth, Risk, Arithmetic mean, Impact event, Asteroid, Meteoroid, Near-Earth object