Planetary Science

Smashing bits to show asteroid strength

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Science  15 Jul 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6296, pp. 259
DOI: 10.1126/science.353.6296.259-a

Optical image showing chondrules in a meteorite fragment.

PHOTO: YVES MARROCCHI

How strong is an asteroid? Earth rocks are poor analogs because of differences in composition, gravity during formation, and geologic processing. Cotto-Figueroa et al. tested samples from two large meteorites (pieces of asteroid that have fallen to Earth) by crushing them in a vice to measure the bulk material properties. By comparing cubes of different sizes, they extrapolated the strength of meter-sized asteroids, finding values that are consistent with the observed break-up of meteors as they enter Earth's atmosphere. The results will be useful for planning sample return or asteroid mining missions or for deflecting potentially hazardous asteroids away from Earth.

Icarus 277, 73 (2016).

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