Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) will help study near-Earth asteroids as well

Friday, April 10, 2009

Well, that makes the mission much more interesting then. It's certainly important to be able to finely measure gravitational waves, but press reports from such a mission just aren't that interesting to the average person. Being able to study near-Earth asteroids in greater detail though is very interesting, since not only can asteroids hit our planet and thus we need to understand them as much as possible, but near-Earth asteroids are also great destinations for manned missions in the future as well.

Mass may seem like an obvious vital statistic to know about a planetary body, but Tricarico reveals that only the mass of asteroids that have been visited by spacecraft or the mass of a few binary asteroids observed from Earth are known. “We always wonder about the porosity, the density, and this will give us measurements from additional asteroids,” he says. Because LISA will look at known Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs), data on their trajectories will already be well-defined. “So from the signal, we can indirectly measure the asteroid’s mass because that’s the only uncertainty in the equation,” he adds. Tricarico also points out that if a known asteroid passes one of the satellites and doesn’t leave a signature then an upper limit can be placed on the mass of that asteroid.
Porosity and density are pretty important too because one problem with manned exploration of an asteroid is the dust kicked up by exploring the surface, and dense asteroids are probably preferable to other asteroids that are more like clumps of rubble.

The mission won't launch for a long time though so it's nothing to get too excited about.


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