Why Asteroids are important to Earth’s Future prospects for Interstellar Travel

On February 15, 2013, the Earth survived an expected near-miss with asteroid 367943 Duende.

What most people didn’t expect was for another asteroid to also come so close as to produce visible effect over Russia. Russian dashcams unexpectedly captured footage of the 19-m wide Chelyabinsk superbolide explosion in our upper atmosphere.

In Astronomy and Geology circles, a bolide is an extremely bright meteor, especially one that explodes in the atmosphere. It refers to a fireball about as bright as the full moon, and it is generally considered a synonym for a fireball.

A superbolide is a bolide that reaches an apparent magnitude of −17 or brighter, which is roughly 100 times brighter than the full moon.

The Chelyabinsk superbolide was not only bright but had a loud concussive blast as it entered our upper atmosphere. The resulting explosion injured over 1,000 people in Russia.

Clearly, the Earth we live on may be a small place, but life can be easily wiped out.

Asteroid impacts in the past have created craters such as the Barringer Crater in Arizona. The dinosaurs died out due to a different impact in the Gulf of Mexico.  Elsewhere in the universe, asteroids may actually transport life between different planets. While the world is focused on exploring planets, asteroid for this and other reasons, deserve our undivided attention.

Asteroids and Earth – Water Time and Geological Time Capsules that can kill us 

We did not see the Chelyabinsk meteor coming until the Russian dashcams caught it. Nobody died as a direct result of the explosion, but the next time we may not be so lucky. There is a very slim possibility that they may collide with Earth over the next few hundred years.

Six known asteroids that we are currently tracking have a 0.1% chance of impacting the Earth before the 23rd century.

Jupiter, Uranus and Saturn massive gravity has been deflecting the path of many of them and absorbing their impact, shielding us from destruction, such as the Shoemaker Levy 9 comets on 1st July 1994.

Since then NASA has launched their Near Earth Object program to track such asteroids, even as they used the impacts on Jupiter to study the effect of such impacts on comets and use that to determine their composition.

Earth’s water may have been delivered to our planet billions of years ago by comets and asteroids. NASA’s Dawn space probe visited the largest known asteroid, Ceres, and detected water on its surface. A former watery world, Ceres ocean of water and ammonia has reacted with the silicate rocks to form crystals that cover the surface.

The surfaces of asteroids don’t erode. This is because unlike rocks on Earth, asteroids lack atmospheres, so no erosion can take place other than micrometeorites and irradiation. Their craters on asteroids are better preserved over long timescales.

They preserve evidence of impacts from the last four billion years which would have long since been eroded away on Earth. Asteroids are in effect geological and possibly archaeological time capsules for life in an ancient Solar System and universe.

Asteroids and Earth – Interstellar Road Map for Habitable planets

More than six billion years from now, when the sun uses all of its hydrogen fuel.

It will eventually becoming a White Dwarf , the end state for most stars in the Milky Way galaxy.

The sun will briefly enlarge enough to swallow Mercury, Venus and maybe Earth. Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus and their moons and asteroids may become habitable and the intense heat warms their surfaces bringing life to these sterile bodies.

More reason to colonize the Moon and Mars, using the Moon as a launchings pad for such ambitions.

Despite the problems, Mars colonization is vital, as it may help us push towards colonizing the outer planets.

The asteroids also can help us to find habitable planets, if not life on planets in Solar Systems outside of our Solar System.

The gravitational field of the surviving planets will often swing the asteroids towards the White Dwarf  star, resulting in them being broken up and making their composition easy to determine using spectroscopic analysis.

These collisions with White Dwarf s are how we are able to determine the composition of asteroids that collide with White Dwarf ’s in other Solar Systems. This provides a direct way to determine the chemical composition of planetary systems outside of our own.

All this data provides vital information for future interstellar travel to locate possible habitable worlds in a distant future when the Sun, in its White Dwarf  stage, finally engulfs the outermost planets that we should have colonized by then, with the Moon and Mars being the launching pad.

Asteroids and Earth – Transpermia and the End in not too bad

A large enough impact by an asteroid can eject material from the planet’s surface. Some of the ejected material could become a transportation vessel for hardy microorganisms. Basically this material could hitch a ride on the asteroid and carry life to other planets. This theory is called Transpermia.

The launch is just the start of the overall adventure. To complete the hop from one planet to another, life must:

  • Withstand the harsh conditions of space during its interplanetary voyage.
  • It must survive entry to the new planet, including another surface impact, upon reaching its destination

The wide range of planetary systems discovered by astronomers, such as the TRAPPIST-1 system, could be packed with potentially habitable planets.

The seven planets orbiting a star 12 times smaller than our own sun in the TRAPPIST-1 system, a mere 39 light years away. All of the seven planets Earth-sized and clustered fairly close together, making bacteria and other form of micro-organisms kicked up by asteroids strikes hop from one planet to the other.

Life could have a much better chance of surviving the journey once it lands on a destination planet with favourable conditions, especially if they are all in the habitable zone like those in the TRAPPIST-1 system.

This could happen on Earth, but in a couple billion years when the Sun has gone White Dwarf , the Earth is cooked and we had manually transported ourselves to other planets in the Solar System.

We can do this by mining minerals from these asteroids to make our living habitats, rockets, space fuel, soil, Water, breathable air and extracted the minerals for trade on Earth …or what’s left of the Earth foraging on underground caverns on the Moon.

Many hurdles involved in this interplanetary hop by microorganisms looking for a new home and we humans plan for the inevitable push towards interstellar space, which may be aided by mining asteroids.

Nevertheless, Transpermia as a theory will continue to generate intrigue as astronomers uncover weirder and wonderful worlds shaped by the influence of asteroids. This will help to develope a greater understanding of the key role asteroids play in shaping our universe.

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Lindsworth is a Radio Frequency and Generator Maintenance Technician who has a knack for writing about his work, which is in the Telecoms Engineering Field. An inspired writer on themes as diverse as Autonomous Ants simulations, Power from Lightning and the current Tablet Wars.