En the beginning of the week, the antenna network HAARP (High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program) located in Alaska transmitted a series of long-wavelength radio signals to a passing asteroid just two lunar distances from Earth. The waves are thought to have penetrated the asteroid, giving scientists an idea of its internal composition and arming them with another piece of information that could prove crucial in defending the planet against a possible collision.
The network of antennas of the program HAARPTuesday, December 20, 2022. (UAF/GI/ JR Ancheta)
Most asteroid observing programs here on Earth use either visual surveys of asteroids, such as those provided by observatories around the world at Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) from NASA, or short-wave radio frequencies, such as those provided by the Deep Space Network from NASA, to map the size, position and trajectory of asteroids. While these programs provide extremely valuable data regarding any potential danger from an asteroid impact, they are limited in that they only “see” the surface of the asteroid.
HAARP, which is operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks, has traditionally been used to perform analyzes of our ionosphere (and he’s even been implicated in a few conspiracy theories). It also has the ability to send long wavelength radio signals. These signals are able to penetrate objects, allowing observers to get an idea of their internal structure. In this case, knowing the internal architecture of an asteroid could provide scientists with a way to blow up or deflect a space rock that gets a little too close to Earth.
The sighting target was asteroid 2010 XC15, which is about 152m in diameter, making it a small asteroid by current standards. It is currently passing close to the Earth at two lunar distancestwice the distance between the Earth and the Moon (384,400 km).
This animated image shows the trajectory of asteroid 2010 XC15 as it passes close to Earth. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
The HAARP experiment adds to other asteroid search efforts such as the mission DART from NASA, which sent a probe to an asteroid in September, and the mission OSIRIS-RExwhich picked up a handful of dust from the asteroid Determine in 2020.
Although no one expects an asteroid to cause problems for Earth in the near future, astronomers have their sights set on Apophis, an asteroid that will pass close to Earth at a distance of about 32,000 km on April 13, 2029. For context, that’s closer than many satellites currently orbiting the planet. However, even though Apophis was once considered a risk, researchers who used the latest observations now estimate that it won’t be a threat for at least a century, giving scientists plenty of time to find a solution.
Data from the HAARP observations will be analyzed over the next few weeks, and the researchers hope to publish their findings in the coming months.
The results presented on the University of Alaska Fairbanks website: NASA and HAARP conclude asteroid experiment.