NASA To Deflect Asteroid In Testing Planetary Defense

Do you get sleepless nights wondering what would happen if earth gets hit by an asteroid? Well, you are about to get a good night sleep after hearing this. NASA is planning to crash a spacecraft traveling at a speed of 24,000 kilometres per hour into an asteroid in a test of "planetary defense."

NASA is a few weeks away from launching humanity’s first-ever asteroid-deflecting planetary defense mission, known as DART, short for "Double Asteroid Redirection Test." DART is set to determine effectiveness of deflecting the course of an asteroid should one be heading for us.

DART will launch on 23 November this year. The spacecraft will impact an asteroid head-on in an attempt to slightly alter its path.

"The DART mission is a demonstration of capability to respond to a potential asteroid impact threat, should one ever be discovered," said team behind the DART mission.

"Although there isn’t a currently known asteroid that’s on an impact course with the Earth, we do know that there is a large population of near-Earth asteroids out there," said Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer.

"The key to planetary defence is finding them well before they are an impact threat," Johnson said.

"We don’t want to be in a situation where an asteroid is headed towards Earth and then have to test this capability."

The DART spacecraft is scheduled to be launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 10:20 pm Pacific time on the 23rd of November this year from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The spacecraft will crash into the asteroid about 6.8 million miles from Earth between September 26 and October 1 next year.

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The choice of the target asteroid

DART’s target asteroid does not pose any threat to Earth. While no known asteroid larger than 140 meters in size poses a significant threat to Earth for the next century, only about 40 percent of such asteroids have been discovered so far.

DART is targeting the binary near-Earth asteroid (65803) Didymos. The Didymos binary asteroid’s primary body is approximately 780 meters across and its secondary body (or “moonlet”) is about 160-meters across.

DART will impact Dimorphos, the moonlet of a binary asteroid system and impart a change of velocity. Dimorphos completes an orbit around Didymos every 11 hours and 55 minutes "just like clockwork" and the effect of the impact will be observed next on Didymos’ pass by Earth in fall 2022 with ground-based and space-based telescopes.

The DART spacecraft will not "destroy" the asteroid but just give it a small nudge that is going to deflect its path around the larger asteroid.

According to Johnson, Didymos binary asteroid system are ideal candidates for the test because of the ability to observe them with ground-based telescopes. Images will also be collected by a miniature camera-equipped satellite contributed by the Italian Space Agency that will be ejected by the DART spacecraft 10 days before impact.

Source


Sydney Chako

Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics teacher at Sytech Learning Academy. From Junior Secondary School to Tertiary Level Engineering Mathematics and Engineering Science.

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