Asteroids can be dangerous - that's why researchers are trying to identify them as early as possible. Artificial intelligence can help with this in the future.
- Near-Earth asteroids are a potential danger to Earth , so they are closely monitored
- Dutch researchers have used a neural network to study asteroids
- Eleven asteroids previously classified as harmless are probably dangerous
Asteroids can be dangerous for the earth: If an asteroid strikes the earth, it can cause great devastation - and even exterminate entire species, as the example of the dinosaurs * shows. In order to detect possible dangerous asteroids as early as possible, there are observation programs that constantly scan the sky for so-called "near earth objects" ( NEO ).
There are lists listing the potentially hazardous objects (PHO). The work of three astronomers from the University of Leiden now shows that some possible dangerous asteroids are missing from the list - although they have long been known. But from the beginning : The astronomers trained a euronal network - i.e. artificial intelligence - with the data from numerous real and simulated asteroids and then tested them with the data from 2000 asteroids that were not part of the training.
Artificial intelligence detects potentially dangerous asteroids
The astronomers found that the method they developed, called the “Hazardous Object Identifier” (HOI) , works well: The software recognized nine out of ten objects as potentially dangerous asteroids. On the other hand, a second result of the astronomers' work is much more interesting: HOI has identified eleven asteroids as “potentially dangerous” that were previously not considered dangerous.
These asteroids will only approach Earth in the distant future: between 2131 and 2923, and they will be closer to Earth than ten times the Earth-Moon distance, that is, closer than 3.84 million kilometers. In addition, they all have a diameter of more than 100 meters.
Asteroids with chaotic orbits
Why the asteroids have not yet been classified as potentially dangerous is due to their very chaotic orbits, which are not recognized by the software that is used to calculate the dangerousness of asteroids, a press release says.
According to Portegies Zwart, one of the researchers involved, the astronomers' work published in the journal "Astronomy & Astrophysics" is just a first exercise: "We now know that our method works." With a better neural network and more data, that would be According to Zwart, researchers like to go “deeper into research”. "The difficult part is that small disturbances in the orbit calculations can lead to big changes in the conclusions," added Zwart.
In the future, neural networks could identify dangerous asteroids
According to the researchers, it is hoped that in the future neural networks can be used to discover potentially dangerous celestial bodies. This method is faster than the traditional methods currently used by the large space organizations, according to a statement.
It is important to identify possible dangerous asteroids quickly: If the asteroid becomes dangerous for the earth in the future, you need enough time to be able to react. So far, there are no concrete plans for how to proceed when an asteroid actually goes to Earth on a collision course . However, a first mission is planned, in which Nasa and Esa want to distract an asteroid and then observe the effects.
Asteroids: "Near-Earth Object" (NEO) and "Potentially Dangerous Object" (PHO)
Celestial bodies are considered as near-earth objects that approach the earth to at least 1.3 astronomical units (AU) - that is about 195,000,000 kilometers. Potentially hazardous objects (PHO) are called celestial bodies that cross the orbit of the earth and have a diameter of more than 140 meters.
Most near-Earth objects and potentially dangerous objects are asteroids , but there are also some comets that fall into these categories. If a new asteroid is discovered, it is observed further to find out as much as possible about it and its dangerousness. Its size and trajectory are particularly interesting: How close will the asteroid come to Earth ? And is there a risk that one day it will hit Earth?
Which asteroid is a danger to the earth? Nasa and Esa keep lists
The US space agency Nasa and its European counterpart Esa keep lists that list all known celestial bodies that are at risk of hitting Earth at some point. These lists are updated regularly.
The most prominent case of a terrestrial asteroid is (99942) Apophis. The asteroid, discovered in 2004 and named after the “god of chaos” in Egyptian mythology, will come very close to Earth in 2029. For a short time there were calculations according to which the asteroid should even hit Earth, but these have long since been corrected.
By Tanja Banner
* fr.de is part of the nationwide Ippen-Digital central editorial office.
Rubric list image: © picture alliance / NASA / dpa