NASA Will Crash A Spacecraft Into An Asteroid - On Purpose

Posted: Jul 7 2017, 1:12pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
NASA will Crash a Spacecraft into an Asteroid - On Purpose
Artist concept of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL

The space agency is aiming to redirect the course of a small asteroid by hitting a spacecraft

Every day several solar system bodies like comets, asteroids and meteoroids pass near the Earth and go unnoticed. But sometimes orbits of bigger objects bring them too close to the Earth which may therefore pose a potential threat of collision.

In order to prevent any such disaster, NASA is planning to conduct a novel test, in which an asteroid coming towards Earth will be deflected. The project is the part of Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) which is aiming to crash a spacecraft into a small asteroid to see if it successfully alters the course of an incoming space rock. Once the trajectory is altered, an asteroid could be prevented from crashing Earth.

According to NASA statement, DART has now entered its preliminary design phase and the testing is planned for 2022. In what will be the first demonstration of its kind, kinetic impactor technique or striking the asteroid to shift its orbit will be used. Though the impact would change the speed of a threatening asteroid by a small fraction, it would be enough to nudge the rock off course.

“DART is a critical step in demonstrating we can protect our planet from a future asteroid impact,” said Andy Cheng from The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, who is one of the leaders of DART investigation. “Since we don’t know that much about their internal structure or composition, we need to perform this experiment on a real asteroid. With DART, we can show how to protect Earth from an asteroid strike with a kinetic impactor by knocking the hazardous object into a different flight path that would not threaten the planet.”

The target for DART's first test is a small asteroid named Didymos. The asteroid will safely fly past the Earth in October 2022 and will appear again in 2024. Didymos is a binary asteroid system that consists of two bodies. Didymos A is about one-half mile in size and is orbited by a smaller asteroid called Didymos B. DART would be crashed into the smaller of the two bodies, which is around 500 feet wide.

Discovered in 2003, Didymos has been thoroughly studied by researchers over the years. The asteroid is made up of material similar to that of many asteroids and is the most easily reachable asteroid of its size from Earth.

NASA will launch a refrigerator-sized spacecraft towards the asteroid system in late 2022. The spacecraft would then collide with smaller body at a speed of approximately 3.7 miles per second, about nine times faster than a bullet. The impact and the resulting change in the orbit of asteroids will be observed from on ground observatories. The observations could help protect Earth from asteroid strikes and from triggering mass extinctions.

Objects larger than 0.6 miles in diameter are big enough to cause a catastrophe effects on Earth and about 93 percent of these sized objects have already been found.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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