NASA is preparing to deflect an asteroid in a major test of planetary defense

NASA is preparing to deflect an asteroid in a major test of planetary defense
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A man sits at his desk in the Mission Operations Center for the Dual Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) spacecraft.

A man sits at a workstation in the Mission Operations Center for the Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) spacecraft that is rapidly approaching its target.

I wish the dinosaurs had thought of that.

On Monday, NASA will attempt a feat no human has ever accomplished before: intentionally slamming a spacecraft into an asteroid to slightly tilt its orbit in a key test of our ability to prevent space objects from destroying life on Earth.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft was launched from California last November and is speeding toward its target, where it will hit at about 14,000 miles per hour (23,000 km/h).

To be sure, neither the asteroid moon Dimorphos nor its orbiting big brother, the pair called Didymos, pose any threat at their closest range, orbiting the Sun some seven million miles from Earth.

But the experiment is one that NASA feels is important to carry out before an actual need is discovered.

“This is an exciting time, not only for the agency, but frankly, in the history of space and the history of humanity,” Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defense officer, told reporters at a briefing Thursday.

If all goes as planned, impact between the car-sized spacecraft and the 530-foot (160 meters, or two Statue of Liberty) asteroid should occur on September 26 at 7:14 PM ET (2314 GMT). Watched live on NASA.

By nudging Dimorphos into a smaller orbit, NASA hopes to shave ten minutes off the time it takes to orbit Didymos, which is currently 11 hours and 55 minutes — a change that will be detected by ground-based telescopes in those days. follow.

A proof-of-concept experiment will actually do something that has been tried before science fiction-especially movies like “Armageddon” and “Don’t Look Up”.

A timeline of NASA's DART mission, which will crash a small spacecraft into a mini-asteroid to alter its trajectory as a test for any potential

A timeline of NASA’s DART mission to crash a small spacecraft into a mini-asteroid to alter its trajectory as a test for potentially dangerous asteroids in the future.

Technically difficult

As the ship moves through space, it flies autonomously for the mission final stage Like a self-guided rocket, its primary camera system, called DRACO, will begin beaming the first images of Dimorphos.

“It will start as a small point of light and then grow and fill the entire field of view,” said Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). mission control in the final briefing.

“These pictures will last until they’re gone,” he said planetary scientist.

Minutes later, LICIACube, a toaster-sized satellite that launched from DART a few weeks ago, will fly past the site to capture images of the collision and the dusty rock thrown up by the impact.

An image of the LICIACube will be sent back in the following weeks and months.

Also tracking the event: a number of telescopes both on Earth and in space, including the recently launched James Webb, can see the bright dust cloud.

Finally, when the European Space Agency’s Hera mission arrives four years later to study Dimorphos’ surface and measure its mass, a full picture of what the system looks like will emerge.

If DART succeeds, it's the first step toward a world that can defend itself against a future existential threat, the plan said.

If DART succeeds, it’s the first step toward a world that can protect itself from a future existential threat, said planetary scientist Nancy Chabot.

It is being prepared

Of the billions of asteroids and comets in our solar system, very few are considered potentially dangerous to our planet, and none will be for the next hundred years or so.

But NASA chief scientist Thomas Zurbuchen said, “I guarantee you that if you wait long enough, there will be an object out there.”

We know from the geological record, for example, that the six-mile-wide asteroid Chicxulub collided with Earth 66 million years ago and plunged the world into a long winter that caused the mass extinction of 75 percent of dinosaurs and species.

An asteroid the size of Dimorphos, on the other hand, would have a regional impact of only destroying a city, albeit with a greater force than anyone else. nuclear bomb in history.

Scientists also hope to gain valuable new information that could provide more general information about the nature of asteroids.

How much momentum DART gives to Dimorphos will depend on the presence of an asteroid solid rockor more like a “garbage heap” of rocks bound together by mutual gravity, an as yet unknown feature.

We don’t even know its current shape: it looks more like a dog bone or a cat, but NASA engineers are confident that DART’s SmartNav guidance system will hit the target.

If it misses, NASA will conduct another launch in two years, when the spacecraft has enough fuel for another pass.

But if it succeeds, it’s the first step toward a world that can protect itself from a future existential threat, Chabot said.

NASA will crash the spacecraft into a 525-foot-wide asteroid in September. Here’s how to track it

© 2022 AFP

Quote: NASA Gears to Deflect Asteroid in Key Planetary Defense Test (2022 September 23)

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