A man sits in front of his workstation inside the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft mission operations center as he

NASA prepares to deflect asteroid, in key test of planetary defense

A man sits at his workstation inside the mission operations center of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft, which is rapidly approaching its target.

Bet the dinosaurs hope they’ll think of this.


NASA on Monday will attempt a feat no human has ever accomplished: deliberately crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid to deflect its orbit slightly, a key test of our ability to stop cosmic objects from destroying life on Earth.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft, which launched from California last November, is fast approaching its target, which will hit it at about 14,000 mph (23,000 km/h).

To be sure, neither the asteroid moon Dimorphos nor its orbiting big brother Didymos poses any threat, as the pair orbits the sun and comes as close as 7 million miles to Earth.

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

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

If all goes according to plan, the impact between the car-sized spacecraft and the 530-foot (160-meter, or two Statue of Liberty) asteroid should take place on September 26 at 7:14pm ET (GMT+8). 2314), and can follow the NASA livestream.

By hitting Dimorphos head-on, NASA hopes to push it into a smaller orbit, slashing the time it takes to orbit Diymos by ten minutes, currently 11 hours and 55 minutes — a change that will follow.

Proof-of-concept experiments will enable things that have only been attempted in science fiction before — especially movies like Doomsday and Don’t Look Up.

Graphics from NASA's DART mission, which rammed a small spacecraft into a mini-asteroid to change its trajectory to test any potential

Graphics from NASA’s DART mission, which rammed a small spacecraft into a mini-asteroid to change its trajectory to test for any potentially dangerous asteroids in the future.

technically challenging

As the spacecraft propels through space, flying autonomously in the final stages of the mission like a self-guided missile, its main camera system, called DRACO, will begin taking the first pictures of Dimorphos.

“It starts with a small point of light and then eventually zooms in and fills the entire field of view,” Nancy Chabot of Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) said in a recent briefing.

“These images will continue to exist until they stop,” added the planetary scientist.

In a few minutes, a toaster-sized satellite called LICIACube, which separated from DART a few weeks ago, will fly by the site at close range to capture images of the collision and ejecta (shattering rocks that flew out from the impact).

Photos of LICIACube will be sent back in the coming weeks and months.

Watching the event, too: A series of telescopes on Earth and in space — including the recently commissioned James Webb — may be able to see a bright cloud of dust.

Finally, when a European Space Agency mission called Hera arrives in four years’ time to survey Dimorphos’ surface and measure its mass, the full picture of the system will be revealed, which scientists can only guess at for now.

If DART succeeds, it is the first step towards a world that can protect itself from future existential threats, the plan says

Planetary scientist Nancy Chabot said that if DART is successful, it is the first step towards a world that can protect itself from future existential threats.

preparing

Of the billions of asteroids and comets in our solar system, only a handful are considered potentially dangerous to our planet, and none for the next hundred years or so.

But “I promise you, if you wait long enough, an object will appear,” said NASA chief scientist Thomas Zurbuchen.

We know from the geological record—for example, the 6-mile-wide Chicxulub asteroid hit Earth 66 million years ago, plunging the world into a long winter and causing the mass extinction of dinosaurs and 75% of species.

By contrast, an asteroid the size of Dimorphos would only have a regional impact, such as destroying a city, albeit more powerful than any nuclear bomb in history.

Scientists also hope to gather valuable new information that could give them a more general understanding of the properties of asteroids.

How much momentum DART imparts to Dimorphos will depend on whether the asteroid is a solid rock, or more like a “garbage heap” of boulders bound by mutual gravity, a property that’s not yet known.

We also don’t know its actual shape: it’s more of a dog bone or a doughnut, but NASA engineers believe DART’s SmartNav guidance system will hit the target.

If it misses, NASA will try again in two years, just enough fuel in the spacecraft to get through again.

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


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


© 2022 AFP

Citation: NASA prepares 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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