Researchers Decode Mystery Behind Forces Holding Asteroid From Splitting Apart

Aug 14, 2014 09:29 AM EDT | Matt Mercuro

Researchers at University of Tennessee, Knoxville, have conducted a detailed study in an attempt to decode the mystery behind the forces that are supporting the near-Earth asteroid from splitting apart and possibly affecting Earth.

Studying the near-Earth asteroid "1950 DA" allowed UT scientists to discover the body was rotating at a faster pace compared to the breakup limit for its density that it defies gravity, according to a press release issued by UT.

"We found that 1950 DA is rotating faster than the breakup limit for its density," said Rozitis, according to the release. "So if just gravity were holding this rubble pile together, as is generally assumed, it would fly apart. Therefore, interparticle cohesive forces must be holding it together."

The researchers say the body has been held firm by the van der Waals, the interparticle cohesive forces which were never found before in an asteroid.

The asteroid was first noticed in 2002. At the time, researchers said 1950 DA has a one in 300 chance to hit earth in 2880, according to Space.com.

Revised estimates have led the chance to be at around one in 19,800.

Even if the asteroid brushes Earth, it has the chance to cause significant damage, according to the release.

"If just gravity were holding this rubble pile together, as is generally assumed, it would fly apart. Therefore, interparticle cohesive forces must be holding it together," said Rozitis.

Rozitis and his colleagues Eric MacLennan and Joshua Emery conducted the study on the asteroid. After going through all the aspects, they have theorized that the asteroid's rotations are so quick as its equator that it experiences negative gravity.

The asteroid is a mile wide, and revolves every 2.1 hours.

 "Following the February 2013 asteroid impact in Chelyabinsk, Russia, there is renewed interest in figuring out how to deal with the potential hazard of an asteroid impact," Rozitis said. "Understanding what holds these asteroids together can inform strategies to guard against future impacts."

Researchers said that the findings provided important information about the asteroids and helped them understand the pros and cons of our efforts that aim at protecting the Earth from an asteroid impact, according to

Some techniques, like using a kinetic impactor, could help in exacerbating the effects of asteroid impact.

 "Therefore, with such an asteroid, you want to avoid interacting with it directly to prevent it breaking up. An alternative is to use a 'gravity tractor,' or a heavy spacecraft placed near the asteroid, which uses the force of gravity to pull the asteroid off course," Rozitis said according to Space.com.

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