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Rare metals could send them straight at Earth

The date of: 2019-08-05
viewed: 15

Dr Natalie Starkey, a cosmochemist and science author, discussed the threat of mining asteroids on the StarTalk science podcast. 

The popular podcast is hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City. 
On July 25, Dr Starkey and Dr Tyson sat down with comedian Mark Normand for an episode dubbed Cosmic Queries – Asteroids and Comets. 
During the episode, a user-submitted question asked the scientists if mining a comet could significantly alter its trajectory.
Dr Starkey said: “It’s a huge risk but this is why the people that are looking at doing it are probably looking at focusing on smaller asteroid or comets if they want to look at comets but it’s generally asteroids we’re talking about at the moment. 
If you start mining it you’re probably going to change its orbit
Dr Natalie Starkey
“Because then if they were to dislodge it onto an orbit that was then a hazardous one for our planet, then it hopefully would burn up in our atmosphere, not cause us any issue. 
“But in terms of mining them, we would probably wouldn’t just go to them and mine them, we would want to drag them somewhere to what we would consider a safe orbit. 
“So this might be near the Moon where basically you can just kind of dump the stuff and it sort of sits there.” 
In this scenario, the Moon could provide the asteroid-mining operation with a “gravitational sweet spot” to keep it safe from hitting Earth. 
If the asteroid in question is small enough, Dr Starkey argued the odds of its veering off into Earth are small. 
She said: “Then what you can do is, have a base on the Moon and go back and forth to that object to mine it gradually. 
“So you’d basically just want to get it to somewhere safe first, because sure enough if you start mining it you’re probably going to change its orbit in some way.” 
Once this happens, the space expert said it would be incredibly hard to predict where the asteroid is headed next. 
In June 2019, NASA explored the possibility of mining asteroids and lunar craters with the aid of robotic explorers. 
Jim Reuter, the associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said the space agency is pursuing new technologies to make “deep space exploration more Earth-independent”. 
By tapping into resources on the Moon and other bodies within the solar system, future manned missions to the stars could work independently of our planet. 

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