Three tiny fragments were collected by a Japanese spacecraft in 2005 from a 4.2-billion-year-old asteroid known as Itokawa. Smaller than the diameter of a hair, these components contain information that could help prevent an asteroid colliding with Earth. Itokawa, a rubble-pile asteroid (created when “solid asteroids collide and the resulting fragments assemble into new structures”), is almost as old as the solar system itself. Held together by a gravitational pull between its composing elements (dust, pebbles, rocks and a void), rubble-pile asteroids are “giant space cushions,” that are good at absorbing shock. Because they are so resilient, scientists believe that the best way for them to avoid a collision with Earth would be to nudge it off course, “but that would probably require a lead time of several years.” The lead author of the study, professor Fred Jourdan of Curtin University, says that more than understanding how to deflect different asteroids, this study reveals just how much can be understood from a few specks of dust. “We can get big stories like that out of [something] very, very small… Every grain has its own story to tell.” Read more at The Guardian.
Image courtesy of SETI