NAU Professor Helps Plan Conference on Asteroid Research in Flagstaff

asteroid trilling
Dr. David Trilling studies asteroids.

The International Academy of Astronautics will hold its third International Planetary Defense Conference “Gathering for Impact!” on April 15 through 19, 2013, at the High Country Conference Center  in Flagstaff, Arizona. David Trilling, assistant professor of astronomy at Northern Arizona University (NAU), is the local organizer of the event, which is expected to gather more than 200 scientists from around the world to discuss all aspects of asteroid research. The conference theme is “protecting our planet from impacts by asteroids and comets,” and the event will include a simulation exercise where participants will engage in a decision-making process to develop deflection and civil defense responses to a hypothetical asteroid threat.

Through a variety of NASA-funded grants to support research on near-Earth objects, Trilling and his colleagues look for asteroids in orbits that might come close to Earth. “We want to know what they’re made of and understand their internal properties,” he said. Part of that work is to add to knowledge about the universe. “But if we want to deflect one [an asteroid], then we want to know more about what it’s made of,” Trilling said. When asteroid 2012 DA14 zips past Earth on Friday, February 15, 2013, on an arc that cuts beneath communications satellites, Trilling will eagerly await the data.

Trilling describes the upcoming flyby of the 150-foot-wide asteroid as “a pretty big deal” even though there is no chance of an impact with Earth, unlike the asteroid of about the same size that created Arizona’s Meteor Crater. Scientists are sure that the asteroid will get no closer than 17,200 miles at its closest approach at 12:26 p.m. MST.

“This is an asteroid that’s so close that it’s pretty easy for us to study,” Trilling said. “Then, as we understand one asteroid better, we can extrapolate that information to thousands of others that look like it.”