From today Europe has an extra eye for observing Space and assessing the risk of any asteroids swooping down to Earth. And the Near-Earth object coordination center Neocc), inaugurated at the ESRIN headquarters of the European Space Agency (ESA), in Frascati, inserted within the planetary defense office of the institution. It will act as a coordination, analysis and data collection structure deriving from the various space observatories, telescopes and more. “Our new Neocc and its activities are an important tool for international cooperation, reflecting the global nature of the dangers that all of us may face from asteroids,” explained ESA CEO Josef Aschbacher .
Since 2019, the ESA has launched its space defense program, called “Space Safety”. It involves the construction of advanced telescopic “eyes” (the FlyEye) aimed at the sky and the improvement of computational capabilities to predict the risks of impact. Strong international character and openness to collaboration with other realities. As noted by the manager of the Neocc center Luca Conversi, “The observations and data on asteroids come from all over the world”. So, he added, “every day the Coordination Center team uses this data to determine the orbit and impact risk of these ancient celestial bodies.” On the other hand, “the more we understand the trajectory of an object, the more we are certain that it will not hit the Earth”. Yet, “we are also preparing for situations where this should not be the case”.
Recently an idea on the actual probabilities came from NASA. In mid-August, the researchers of the “Near-Earth object observations program”, led by the Italian Davide Farnocchia, have published in the journal Icarus the results of the analysis on new data relating to the asteroid Bennu, the most famous of scientific chronicles. Discovered in 1999 thanks to telescopic observation, Bennu falls into the category of “Apollo asteroids”. They are potentially dangerous objects for the Earth due to the possibility of impact, since they have an orbit around the Sun with aphelium outside the orbit of our Planet and internal perihelion. The result is that the two orbits can be intercepted, hence the possible risk of an impact that would be particularly catastrophic. Well, the probability that it will crash on Earth in the next three hundred years is 0.057%, which is one in 1,750. The most plausible date is set for September 24, 2182, with a probability that drops to 0.037%, equal to one in 2,700.
This confirms that the threat of a swooping asteroid on Earth does not appear (fortunately) yet concrete. Of course, it is not excluded that in the future it may not represent an important (if not vital) risk for our planet. It is for this reason that, in addition to forecast analyzes and observations, between Europe and the United States we are also working on possible defense capabilities. In all this Italy is among the protagonists.
“The planetary defense is a priority for our country – explained the president of ASI Giorgio Saccoccia– as can also be seen from the participation in the first asteroid deflection experiment through the Dart, LiciaCube Hera missions; Italy has supported the Esadedicati programs for space security from the outset, as an opportunity aimed at offering global value to the skills of the Italian scientific community whose work is focused on the danger of asteroids ”.
For several years, NASA and ESA have been working on the “Asteroid impact & deflection assessment” program, aimed at discovering the possibilities of an interplanetary defense. The Americans will be the first to leave at the end of this year with the Dart mission, literally “dart”. The spacecraft will point straight at Didymos, a binary system (a class that includes about 15% of known asteroids) in deep space, about eleven million kilometers from Earth. With a mass of about 500 kilograms, it will have to impact at a speed of about 21 thousand km / h (about six kilometers per second) Dimorphos, the smaller of the two asteroids, equal to about 160 meters, like the pyramid of Giza, trying to modify it the orbit. It could happen as early as 2022, considering that the arrival at the destination of Dart is set at eleven months after departure.
Argotec, an aerospace company from Turin, with the financing and collaboration of ASI has been commissioned by NASA to create LiciaCube, a small satellite that will be aboard Dart. Shortly before impact, he will have to detach himself from Dart to acquire high-resolution images of the crater and debris generated by the collision. It will proceed in autonomous navigation, making a fly-by of the asteroid system while staying about 50 kilometers away. It will offer the first information useful to understand the results of the mission. To support the mission there will be an all-Italian team, made up of researchers from INAF, from the Polytechnic of Milan, from the Universities of Bologna and Parthenope of Naples, from Ifac-Cnr of Florence.
Four years later, at the end of 2026, “Hera”, named after the Greek goddess of marriage, will approach the Didymos system, a European contribution to the interplanetary defense program. With launch scheduled for 2024, the spacecraft will have to perform a rendezvous with the asteroid and six months of close-up studies on the “substantial crater” that the American probe should have been able to produce on Dimorphos.

Previous articleThe Ottaviano Del Turco case between M5s and Pd
Next articleBullfighting history Luis Mazzantini, the young bullfighter who imposed the draw