Asteroid whisperer | MIT Technology Review


“We have been watching Didymos for five years, to understand the state of the system before changing it forever, so we can say [the difference between] what we did with DART compared to what would happen naturally, “says Rivkin.” Once we get and interpret the results, we can apply them as needed. Or, hopefully, we don’t have to. “

When not working on a potentially life-saving mission on Earth, Rivkin studies how this life might have come about in the first place.

“There’s a lot of discussion about how water and the organic materials we have on Earth were introduced through asteroid and comet impacts,” he says. “So the study of where the water is in the asteroids has a big influence on that.”

Rivkin uses astronomical spectroscopy and spectrophotometry to determine the composition of asteroids in our solar system. This means that it measures the spectra of electromagnetic radiation emanating from asteroids and comets to determine where these materials might be present.

This celestial dowsing could also help human life expand further into the cosmos. To that end, Rivkin has worked with the Virtual Solar System Exploration Research Institute, which asks questions such as: Could we use asteroid water as a rocket propellant in deep space missions? If so, which asteroids are good candidates for a pit stop?

But great knowledge carries a great deal of responsibility, and Rivkin feels compelled to address the many ethical considerations involved in space travel.

“What does it mean if we expand our economy into space? What is the ethic of that? How do we handle the best parts of humanity and not our worst?” He asks.

Thinking about the evolution and fate of human life in the universe can get heavy, so Rivkin turns to music when he needs a break. Playing drums in elementary school led him to form a band with some friends during his time at MIT. Thirty years later, he still enjoys writing and playing music under the name “Andy Rivkin and his Gedankenband,” and his songs are available on popular streaming platforms.

“It’s a good mental health break just to pick up a guitar,” he says. “Whenever I give advice to someone who is going to college, I always say keep doing your hobbies. Maybe in junior school you say, “There’s no way I’m going to have time for that.” But you will be much happier in 10 or 15 or 20 years if you do. ”



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