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Computer Simulation Could Predict Future Asteroid Impacts

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A researcher at the National Institute of Natural Hazards in China has developed a computer simulation of asteroid collisions, which could be used to predict the result of future asteroid impacts or provide insight by studying the craters of past impacts. 

The research was published in AIP Advances

Replicating Asteroid Strikes

The computer simulation was initially designed to replicate model asteroid strikes performed in a laboratory. However, the model proved to be highly accurate, leading Duoxing Yang to believe it could be used to predict the results of future impacts.

“From these models, we learn generally a destructive impact process, and its crater formation,” Yang said. “And from crater morphologies, we could learn impact environment temperatures and its velocity.”

The simulation was built using the space-time conservation element and solution element method, which was designed by NASA before being used by universities and government agencies. It models shock waves and other acoustic problems. 

By designing this new simulation, the goal was to simulate a small rocky asteroid striking a larger metal asteroid at several thousand meters per second. With the simulation, Yang could calculate the effects this impact would have on the metal asteroid.

The simulation results were then compared against mock asteroid impacts that were created in a lab. The simulation proved accurate in these tests, leading the researchers to look towards using the simulation to generate more data.

NASA’s Psyche Mission

The data will go towards preparing NASA’s Psyche mission, which will be the first spacecraft to explore an asteroid made entirely of metal. Metal asteroids differ from rocky asteroids since they consist of materials found in the Earth’s inner core, rather than the Earth’s crust. According to NASA, studying these asteroids can provide new insights into the conditions at the center of Earth. 

Yang thinks that computer simulation models can provide the answers to many questions surrounding asteroid impacts. 

“What kind of geochemistry components will be generated after impacts?” Yang questioned. “What kinds of impacts result in good or bad consequences to local climate? Can we change trajectory of asteroids heading to us?” 

Alex McFarland is a tech writer who covers the latest developments in artificial intelligence. He has worked with AI startups and publications across the globe.