Asteroid 1950 DA. The asteroid was once thought to be a potentially dangerous asteroid. Back in 2003, a study suggested that should the asteroid impact the Atlantic Ocean, the resulting tsunami waves would be at least 200 feet high.
Scientists’ understanding of 1950 DA took an unexpected turn this month. They found the asteroid is more like a rubble pile, with about half of it being empty space.
A report from the University of Tennessee says, “We found that 1950 DA is rotating faster than the breakup limit for its density,” said postdoctoral researcher Ben Rozitis in the study, published in Nature.
“So if just gravity were holding this rubble pile together, as is generally assumed, it would fly apart. Therefore, interparticle cohesive forces must be holding it together.”
These “interparticle cohesive forces” are also known as van der Waals forces. Van der Waals forces are weak electric forces that can attract particles together. This allows the asteroid to stay together despite its incredibly fast spinning motion.
This is good news for humans about 800 years from now. Asteroid 1950 DA is forecasted to potentially hit Earth in 2880. With today’s news, chances of that happening are slim. A very small impact could shatter the asteroid. Won’t even need Bruce Willis and crew for this one.
“With such tenuous cohesive forces holding one of these asteroids together, a very small impulse may result in a complete disruption,” according to Rozitis.
While 1950 DA appears to have more bark than bite, Rozitis isn’t letting his guard down. “Following the February 2013 asteroid impact in Chelyabinsk, Russia, there is renewed interest in figuring out how to deal with the potential hazard of an asteroid impact.”
This news also complicates potential mining missions to asteroids. Can’t exactly land on an asteroid that could just break apart. Private companies and governments will need to do extensive research on any potential mining candidates in the future.
Image credit: NASA