Some asteroids not as threatening to Earth as earlier feared

By | June 3, 2006

Some asteroids not as threatening to Earth as earlier fearedCool. I needed some good news on this boring Friday night.

“Asteroids on collision paths with Earth may be less dangerous than previously thought and may disintegrate before touching down, according to first results from a Japanese space probe that landed on a faraway space rock late last year.

The Hayabusa probe, which means “falcon” in Japanese, has been plagued with communication problems, a fuel leak and lost equipment. But researchers have still praised the mission as a roaring success for its pioneering insights into the little-understood world of small asteroids, which comprise the bulk of celestial bodies spinning in threatening, near-earth orbits.

“The results were very interesting and shocking,” … The results show that Itokawa, the asteroid visited by the Japanese probe, is a very loose compilation of rock and gravel, barely held together by its own weak gravity. Most asteroids studied thus far have been at least double the size of the 690-meter-long Itokawa and are much more densely compacted, Fujiwara said.

The loose composition suggests small asteroids like Itokawa, which cross the earth’s orbit, pose less of a risk of a cataclysmic collision with our planet, Fujiwara said. Such asteroids are not only more likely to break into smaller, harmless pieces should they enter the earth’s atmosphere, but they would also be easier for humans to blow up or deflect with weapons. – msn

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