Aussie student has answer to save Earth from asteroid attack

Published 27 August 2008

The bomb dropped on Hiroshima had an explosive yield of 12.5 kiloton; asteroid Apophis, which is now hurtling toward Earth and which will come uncomfortably close to our planet in 2029, packs a punch of 1,375,000 kilotons; competitions are being held to find the best way to stop it in its tracks

An Ph.D. student with the University of Queensland’s School of Engineering has won top prize in an international competition for her plan to wrap a giant asteroid with reflective sheeting to prevent a collision with the Earth. The asteroid, Apophis, is estimated to be about 270 meters across and it will pass close to Earth in 2029, well inside the orbit of the Moon and closing in to the same sort of distance as geosynchronous satellites.

Apophis is considerably smaller than the 15 km wide asteroid which struck the Earth in what is now the Yucatán Peninsula, in south east Mexico — and more than likely caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Still, if Apophis collided with Earth, it would strike with the force of more than 110,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs (the yield of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 12.5 kilotons; Apophis packs a punch of 1,375,000 kilotons).

Mary D’Souza put forward her proposal and took out the top prize in an international competition to find new ways of stopping asteroids from hitting our humble, little planet. With her paper, entitled “A Body Solar Sail Concept for the Deflection of 99942 Apophis,” D’Souza beat entries from around the world in the Space Generation Advisory Council’s Move An Asteroid 2008 competition and will travel to Glasgow at the end of September to present her plan at the International Astronautical Congress, the world’s largest space conference.