April 22, 2009

Scientists to discuss asteroid impacts

The European Space Agency says scientists are getting ready for an international meeting to discuss preparations for a near-Earth flyby of asteroid Apophis.

The first International Academy of Astronautics Planetary Defense Conference will be held in Granada, Spain, next week. Among topics to be discussed is the April 13, 2029, Earth flyby of asteroid Apophis.

The ESA said specialists in astrometry, orbital dynamics, aerothermodynamics and impact modeling will join spacecraft mission designers, risk analysts and systems engineers to debate possible asteroid impacts.

The meeting will be the first of its kind organized in Europe as an IAA event.

The space agency said Apophis is representative of a type of object that presents a serious impact threat. The conference will use the visit of Apophis -- which will not impact the Earth -- as a catalyst for applied research in asteroid studies.

It is an attractive subject for many researchers, as in the studies about these objects -- and on the space missions related to them -- many leading-edge scientific and technical fields are combined, said Andres Galvez, ESA general studies program manager and a member of the conference organizing committee. Finding new solutions or shedding light on the unknowns relating to (near Earth objects) demands a great deal of creativity; studying how to avoid a possible catastrophe on a planetary scale is a particularly compelling challenge.