Asteroid Whisperer | MIT . Technology Review

“We have been observing Didymos for 5 years, to understand the state of the system before we change it forever, so we can know [the difference between] what we did with DART versus what would naturally happen,” said Rivkin. “Once we receive and interpret the results, we can apply them as needed. Or, hope is unnecessary”.

When he’s not on a potentially life-saving mission on Earth, Rivkin studies how that life might have emerged in the first place.

“There’s a lot of discussion going on about how the water and organic materials we have on Earth were introduced by asteroids and comets,” he said. “So the study of the location of water in asteroids has a lot to do with that.”

Rivkin uses astronomical spectroscopy and spectroscopy to determine the composition of the asteroids in our solar system. This means he measures the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation emitted by asteroids and comets to determine where such materials may be.

This celestial dowsing could also help human life extend beyond space. To that end, Rivkin worked with the Solar System Exploration Research Institute, which raises questions like: Can we use planetary urine as a rocket launcher on missions deep space? If so, which asteroids are good stopover candidates?

But with great knowledge comes great responsibility, and Rivkin feels obligated to address the wide range of ethical considerations that come with space travel.

“What does it mean if we expand our economy into space? What is the moral of that? How do we bring out the best parts of who we are, not the worst parts of us? ” 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 at 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 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 to keep working on your hobby. Maybe in senior year you’ll say, ‘There’s no way I have time for this.’ But you’ll be much happier 10 or 15 to 20 years from now if you do. ”

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