Dr. Gregory L. Matloff
by Daniel Bush
Feb 22, 2011 | 3957 views | 0 0 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
If the 25-million-ton asteroid Apophis slams into Earth in 2029 or 2036, when it is scheduled to make two closes passes, disaster of epic proportions would follow. Luckily for the rest of the world, someone in Brooklyn is working around the clock to make sure this doesn’t happen.

Dr. Gregory L. Matloff, a NASA researcher and City Tech physics professor, believes Apophis’ surface could be heated, which would throw the monster asteroid off course and spare widespread destruction on Earth.

NASA estimates the rock - 1,100 feet in diameter, and roughly 900 feet tal l- would have an impact 68,000 greater than the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Of course, the odds that the asteroid will hit Earth are slim.

“An Apophis impact is very unlikely,” said Matloff, considering the asteroid’s “close” pass of the Earth, in scientific terms, will still be made at an estimated distance of 22,600 miles. But the possibility exists that Apophis could alter direction or fragment, sending smaller chunks hurtling towards Earth.

“A collision with an object of this size traveling at an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 miles per hour would be catastrophic,” Matloff said.

In 2007, Matloff and a team of NASA researchers investigated ways to deflect or explode dangerous space debris known as Near Earth Objects (NEO). Matloff thinks altering their trajectory is the way to go.

To do so, Matloff and his team theorized, would require heating Apophis’ surface (with a beam-emitting solar reflector) to create a jet stream that would push the asteroid off course and preferably out of harm’s way.

But how hot do you heat an asteroid?

“A beam that penetrates too deeply would need simply heat the asteroid,” Matloff explained. “But a beam that penetrates just the right amount - perhaps about a tenth of a millimeter - would create a steerable jet and achieve the purpose of deflecting the asteroid.”

Matloff and a group of City Tech students in Brooklyn have spent the past year doing heat experiments on meteor samples provided by the American Museum of Natural History to find the right temperature.

“To my knowledge this is the first experimental measurement” of its kind, said Matloff, who presented a paper on the work at the 73rd annual meeting of the Meteoritical Society. It may represent the first step, but at least somebody has undertaken the challenge.

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