NASA will launch spacecraft to close an asteroid

The DART probe will hit Dimorphos at just 15,000 mph.


NASA is preparing to launch a mission to deliberately destroy a spacecraft into an asteroid – a test run should humanity ever need to stop a giant space rock from wiping out life on Earth.

It may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but DART (the double asteroid redirection test) is a true proof-of-concept experiment, which exploded at 10:21 a.m. Pacific time on Tuesday (0621 GMT Wednesday) on Vandenberg’s SpaceX rocket. Has been doing. Space Force Base in California.

Its target object: Dimorphos, a “moon” about 525 feet (160 m, or two Statue of Liberty) wide, orbits a much larger asteroid called Didymos (2,500 feet or 780 m in diameter), which together orbits the Sun. revolves around.

The impact should occur in the fall of 2022, when the pair of rocks is 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers) from Earth, the closest point they have ever seen.

“What we’re trying to learn is how to address a threat,” Thomas Zuburchen, top NASA scientist, said in a press call for the $330 million project, the first of its kind.

To be clear, the asteroid in question poses no threat to our home planet.

But they belong to a class of objects known as Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) – asteroids and comets that reach our planet within 30 million miles (50 million kilometers).

NASA’s Office of Planetary Defense Coordination is most interested in masses larger than 460 feet (140 m), which have the potential to flatten entire cities or regions with energy several times the energy of an average nuclear bomb.

There are 10,000 known near-Earth asteroids that measure 460 feet or more in size, but none have a significant chance of being hit in the next 100 years. One major caveat: Only 40 percent of those asteroids have been found to date.

15,000 mph kick

Planetary scientists can create miniature impacts in laboratories and use the results to build sophisticated models of how an asteroid turns—but models rely on imperfect assumptions, which is why they want to do a real-world test. Huh.

The DART probe, which is a large frieze-shaped box with limousine-sized solar panels on either side, will hit Dimorphos at speeds exceeding 15,000 mph (24,000 kph), causing the asteroid There will be a small change in speed. ,

The scientists say the pair is an “ideal natural laboratory” for testing, as Earth-based telescopes can easily measure the brightness variation of the Didymos-Dimorphos system and the time it took for Dimorphos to orbit its older brother. can do justice.

Their orbit never intersects our planet, providing a safe way to measure the impact of an impact that occurred between 26 September and 1 October 2022.

Dart probe team chief Andy Rivkin said the current orbital period is 11 hours 55 minutes, and the team expects Kick to be about 10 minutes beyond the orbit of Dimorphos.

There is some uncertainty about how much energy will be transferred by impact, as the internal structure and porosity of moonshine are not known.

The more debris generated, the more pressure will be exerted on the dimorphos.

“Every time we look at an asteroid, we find stuff we don’t expect,” Rivkin said.

The DART spacecraft also carries sophisticated instruments for navigation and imaging, including the Italian Space Agency’s Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids (LICIACube) to observe the accident and its aftermath.

The trajectory of Didymos may also be slightly affected, scientists say, but it will not endanger Earth on its course or inadvertently.

nuclear explosion

The so-called “kinetic impactor” method isn’t the only way to bend an asteroid, but it’s the one most devised with current technology.

Others that have been envisaged include flying a spacecraft closer to provide a smaller gravitational force.

Another is detonating nuclear — but not on the object itself, as in the Armageddon and Deep Impact movies — that would probably create many more dangerous objects.

Scientists estimate that 460 feet of asteroids collide once every 20,000 years.

A six-mile (10-kilometer) wide asteroid – such as the one that struck 66 million years ago and caused the extinction of most life on Earth, including the dinosaurs – occurs in about 100-200 million years.

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)


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