By | September 23, 2022
NASA is preparing to deflect the asteroid, in a key test of planetary defense

A man sits at his workstation in the Mission Operations Center for the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft, which

A man sits at his workstation in the Mission Operations Center for the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft, which is rapidly approaching its target.

Bet the dinosaurs wish they’d thought of this.

NASA will on Monday attempt a feat never before accomplished by mankind: deliberately slamming a spacecraft into an asteroid to slightly deflect its orbit, in a key test of our ability to stop cosmic objects from destroying life on Earth.

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

To be sure, neither asteroid moon Dimorphos, nor its orbiting big brother called Didymos, poses any threat as the pair loop the sun and pass about seven million miles from Earth on closest approach.

But the experiment is one NASA has deemed important to carry out before a real need is discovered.

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

If all goes as planned, the collision between the car-sized spacecraft and the 530-foot (160 meters, or two Statues of Liberty) asteroid should occur on September 26 at 19:14 Eastern Time (2314 GMT), and may be followed on a NASA live stream.

By slamming Dimorphos head-on, NASA hopes to push it into a smaller orbit and 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 the days that Follow.

The proof-of-concept experiment will make reality what has previously only been attempted Science fiction—Especially movies like “Armageddon” and “Don’t Look Up.”

Graphics of NASA's DART mission to crash a small spacecraft into a mini-asteroid to alter its trajectory as a test of any potential

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

Technically challenging

When the craft propels itself through space and flies autonomously for the mission the final phase as an autonomous missile, its main camera system, DRACO, will begin beaming down the very first images of Dimorphos.

“It will start as a small point of light and eventually it will zoom in and fill the entire field of view,” said Nancy Chabot of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), which hosts mission control in a recent briefing.

“These images will continue until they don’t,” it added planetary scientist.

Minutes later, a toaster-sized satellite called LICIACube, which separated from DART a couple of weeks earlier, will make a close pass of the site to capture images of the impact and the ejecta — the pulverized rock thrown off by the impact.

LICIACube’s image will be sent back in the weeks and months that follow.

Also watching the event: an array of telescopes, both on Earth and in space – including the recently operational James Webb – that may be able to see a brighter cloud of dust.

Finally, a full picture of what the system looks like will be revealed when a European Space Agency mission called Hera arrives four years later to probe Dimorpho’s surface and measure its mass, which scientists can only guess at right now.

If DART succeeds, then it is a first step toward a world that can defend itself from a future existential threat, the plan said

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

Be prepared

Very few of the billions of asteroids and comets in our solar system are considered potentially dangerous to our planet, and none within the next hundred years.

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

We know that from the geologic record—for example, the six-mile-wide Chicxulub asteroid hit Earth 66 million years ago, plunging the world into a long winter that led to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs along with 75 percent of species.

An asteroid the size of Dimorphos, on the other hand, would only cause a regional impact, such as destroying a city, albeit with a greater force than any other atomic bomb in history.

Scientists also hope to uncover valuable new information that can inform them about the nature of asteroids more generally.

How much speed DART gives Dimorphos depends on whether the asteroid is solid rockor more like a “garbage pile” of boulders bound by mutual gravity, a property not yet known.

We also don’t know its actual shape: whether it’s more like a dog bone or a doughnut, but NASA engineers are confident that DART’s SmartNav guidance system will hit its target.

If it misses, NASA will have another shot in two years, with the spacecraft containing just enough fuel for another pass.

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


NASA will crash a spacecraft into a 525-foot-wide asteroid in September. This is how you see it


© 2022 AFP

Quote: NASA Gears Up to Deflect Asteroid, in Key Test of Planetary Defense (2022, September 23) Retrieved September 23, 2022, from https://phys.org/news/2022-09-nasa-gears-deflect-asteroid-key.html

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