Chapter 13 Comets and Asteroids: Debris of the Solar System
Collaborative Group Activities
- Your group is a congressional committee charged with evaluating thefunding for an effort to find all the NEAs (near-Earth asteroids) that are larger than 0.5 kilometers across. Make a list of reasons it would be useful to humanity to find such objects. What should we (could we) do if we found one that will hit Earth in a few years?
- Many cultures considered comets bad omens. Legends associate comets with the deaths of kings, losses in war, or ends of dynasties. Did any members of your group ever hear about such folktales? Discuss reasons why comets in earlier times may have gotten this bad reputation.
- Because asteroids have a variety of compositions and a low gravity that makes the removal of materials quite easy, some people have suggested that mining asteroids may be a way to get needed resources in the future. Make a list of materials in asteroids (and comets that come to the inner solar system) that may be valuable to a space-faring civilization. What are the pros and cons of undertaking mining operations on these small worlds?
- As discussed in the feature box on Comet Hunting as a Hobby, amateur comet hunters typically spend more than 400 hours scanning the skies with their telescopes to find a comet. That’s a lot of time to spend (usually alone, usually far from city lights, usually in the cold, and always in the dark). Discuss with members of your group whether you can see yourself being this dedicated. Why do people undertake such quests? Do you envy their dedication?
- The largest Kuiper belt objects known are also called dwarf planets. All the planets (terrestrial, jovian, and dwarf) in our solar system have so far been named after mythological gods. (The dwarf planet names have moved away from Roman mythology to include the gods of other cultures.) Have your group discuss whether we should continue this naming tradition with newly discovered dwarf planets. Why or why not?
- The total cost of the Rosetta mission to match courses with a comet was about 1.4 billion Euros (about ?1.6 billion US). Have your group discuss whether this investment was worth it, giving reasons for whichever side you choose. (On the European Space Agency website, they put this cost in context by saying, “The figure is barely half the price of a modern submarine, or three Airbus 380 jumbo jets, and covers a period of almost 20 years, from the start of the project in 1996 through the end of the mission in 2015.”)
- If an Earth-approaching asteroid were discovered early enough, humanity could take measures to prevent a collision. Discuss possible methods for deflecting or even destroying an asteroid or comet. Go beyond the few methods mentioned in the text and use your creativity. Give pros and cons for each method.