Imaging asteroids bring joint research to Mines

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has signed several contracts to private and education institutions to help promote further knowledge. Those contracts include joint research by Southwest Research Institute in Boulder and the Geophysics Department here at Mines.

Detchai Ittharat, known to most as “Pock,” from Thailand, researches for the project in the Geophysics Department.

Ittharat, guided by Dr. Paul Sava deals with the modeling and imaging of an asteroid. The project goal is to determine the physical properties and structure of an asteroid. To do so, “[w]e apply the seismic property process done on earth,” Ittharat said. Through the manipulation of wave equations and models, a finite difference model is developed. This model collects data from satellites around the asteroid, and astronomers use software to read the data and make an image of the asteroid.

The current purpose of the research is to show that the imaging can be done. There are several reasons for the research, but, “It is not clear what the main drive is,” said Sava. He explained that the interest in space has been increasing but it is uncertain where it will go. As the moon has been explored, Mars is too far, “So where is there to go?” Sava asked. The answer, an asteroid.

Sava also raised the question of what is to be done if an asteroid is on target for Earth. Sava said that there are several theories, but the most prevalent idea is to land a structure on the asteroid to move it. To move the asteroid, it may be useful to know the asteroid’s composition and properties, such as the asteroid’s ability to compress or give to a force acting on it.

The process, described by Ittharat, is commonly used by “petroleum engineers [who] look at the images created by geophysics of the underground. We did the same idea of the asteroid.” By collecting the data from the waves, information about the physical properties are revealed, such as the chemical make-up, density, and mass.

The difference is that on Earth, engineers can work with several sensors, while in space, there are plans for two sensors. But those sensors, or satellites, can revolve freely about the asteroid and “act as many sensors,” said Sava.

Ittharat is excited to further the research. He said, “There are so many methods and models and each show something different.” He hopes to adapt the model to change seismic processing to electromagnetic processing. Electromagnetic processing should allow for more of the asteroid’s infrastructure to be revealed, including the conductivity and electromagnetic field about the asteroid.

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