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Supercomputing Challenge


Team: 11


Area of Science: Astronomy


Problem Definition:

On an average of every few hundred thousand years or so, asteroids with a diameter larger than a mile could collide with Earth and cause global disasters. Many scientists believe that one of these collisions occurred about 65 million years ago. It generated a vast dust cloud which blocked sunlight and prevented photosynthesis for a few years. It caused acid rain and firestorms resulting from heated impact debris raining back down upon the Earth's surface. And, of course, it led to the extinction of most living species, including dinosaurs.
The probability of an asteroid striking the Earth again and causing similar damage is very low. Nonetheless, the fact that an analogous impact would be a catastrophe unparalleled in human history has kept the idea of a defensive network alive. Besides, even less extreme collisions cannot be ignored; even though they cannot wipe out half of the biosphere, they can still cause tsunamis, wildfires and local disasters.
Therefore, it seems sensible to make efforts to discover and study these objects, to characterize their sizes, compositions and structures and to keep an eye on their future trajectories.

Problem Solution:

We plan to create an environment similar to what a near-earth asteroid would experience. Factors such as the Earth’s atmosphere, the gravitational pull of the Earth, moon, and other asteroids will influence the asteroid. Upon entering the known trajectory of the asteroid, the program will calculate the effect these outside influences will have on the asteroid.
If the program determines that the asteroid will indeed hit the Earth, we will then determine what kind of impact the asteroid will have. We must take into account the size, speed, and impact location of the asteroid to determine if it poses a significant threat.
If the asteroid does pose a threat, the program will simulate different deflection scenarios to determine which would be most effective in decreasing the threat.

Progress to Date:

We have been researching asteroid collisions and deflection strategies. Our research also included the present situation of NEAs (Near Earth Asteroids) and PHAs (Potentially Hazardous Asteroids) as well as statistics related to them. We are currently comparing the results of several projects for discovery and tracking of NEAs – projects such as LINEAR, NEAT, Spacewatch, LONEOS and Catalina. Next, we will choose five NEAs, model their orbits and predict the effect different deflection strategies could have on them.
We will use the Kinetic Energy equation along with the probability of impact to assign the asteroid a Torino value. If the Torino value is high we will determine an optimal deflection strategy.

Expected Results:

Currently, the most efficient government funded program researching asteroids as a possible threat to Earth is the LINEAR Survey program in Socorro, New Mexico. A program such as ours could work in tandem with the LINEAR Survey system. Once a near-earth asteroid is detected and images from telescopes determine is average speed and direction, this information can be run through our program. The program will determine if the asteroid is a threat and if so, how the threat can be neutralized. Our program could save lives and property by indicating early the site the asteroid will hit. Our program will also serve as a valuable aid to the study of asteroids by providing the coordinates of an asteroid for a possible rendezvous with a research probe.


• Rudnyk, Marian E. "Asteroid." World Book Online Reference Center. 2005. World Book, Inc.
• National Aeronautics and Space Administration,
• “The LINEAR Project”,
• Sharpton, Virgil L. "Meteor." World Book Online Reference Center. 2005. World Book, Inc.
• Stokes G. H., Evans J. B., and Larson S. M. (2002) “Near-Earth Asteroid search programs”. In Asteroids III (W. F. Bottke Jr. et al., eds.). University of Arizona, Tucson

Team Members:

  Bianca Bologa
  Karalyn Baca

Sponsoring Teacher: Jim Mims

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