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NASA To Shoot Didmyos Asteroid To Defend Earth From Destroying Impact

NASA To Shoot Didmyos Asteroid To Defend Earth From Destroying Impact

Announced just after Asteroid Day (June 30) - an annual event run by scientists to raise public awareness of the dangers Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) pose - the mission phase will ramp up preparations to intercept an asteroid binary system called Didymos with the DART spacecraft, as pictured in the animation above.

The astronomers have assessed this asteroid binary system closely since 2003. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) program has entered the design phase, and could head out to a passing asteroid as soon as 2022.

"A binary asteroid is the ideal natural laboratory for this test", said Tom Statler, program scientist for DART at NASA. The plan is for the self-piloting DART spacecraft to hit Didymos B on its second approach in 2024. The size of a refrigerator, the spacecraft would then strike Didymos B at about nine times the speed of a bullet or 3.7 miles per second (6km per second). "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", Cheng concluded.

Small asteroids hit Earth nearly daily, but most break and burn in the upper atmosphere, leaving no discernable traces on our world.

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The fact that Didymos B orbits Didymos A makes it easier to see the results of this experiment, and ensures NASA won't drastically change the trajectory of the pair around the sun, Statler added. The DART spacecraft will be created to smash into the asteroid "at a speed about nine times faster than a bullet, approximately 3.7 miles per second (6 kilometers per second)", effectively altering the asteroid's orbit.

"Since we don't know that much about their internal structure or composition, we need to perform this experiment on a real asteroid", explained Cheng. To save Earth from the possibility of an asteroid collision, NASA-funded telescopes and other assets continue to search space for large objects, track their orbit, and determine if they can cause potential harm to the planet.

Instead, the impact should jostle the rock into a different path relative to Didymos A. Using ground-based observations, NASA scientist will look to see if the kinetic energy imparted by DART on the Didymos system was sufficient to nudge it off its current course. However, NASA claims that they have already found 93% of these NEOs. If the mission becomes a success, we'll be taking a big step forward into figuring out how to defend Earth from asteroids that are on a grand collision course towards it in the future.


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