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Monitoring of asteroid collision could help warn of Earth impacts

April 23, 2013 at 8:15 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, April 23 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say a new way to monitor collisions between asteroids and other objects in our solar system could warn us of "rogue debris" from such events.

Space scientists at UCLA said a new method to determine the mass of magnetic clouds that result from the impacts could help scientists better understand where to look first to find new meteoroid debris that could become dangerous to the Earth.

"The passage by the Earth earlier this year of the small asteroid 2012 DA14 and the explosion the same week of an even smaller asteroid in the atmosphere above central Russia remind us that while space is mostly empty, the objects that are orbiting the sun do occasionally collide with other orbiting bodies, and the energy released in such collisions can be catastrophic to the bodies involved," Earth and space science Professor Christopher T. Russell said in a UCLA release Tuesday.

The researchers described their development of a method for finding the mass of collision-produced magnetic clouds that contain fine, electrically charged dust.

"We have found a way by which we can monitor such collisions in space by identifying the magnetic signature produced in these collisions," Russell said. "While the colliding objects may be only tens to hundreds of feet across, the resulting magnetic signature can be hundreds of thousands of miles in width and be carried outward from the sun by the solar wind for millions of miles."

These dust clouds can weigh from about 10,000 to 1 million tons -- very similar in mass to the asteroids the Earth recently encountered over Russia, the researchers said.

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