NASA wants to throw DART at an asteroid

NASA wants to throw DART at an asteroid”

Only one half of the binary, though - the smaller half, a mere 160 metres in size (NASA classifies asteroids greater than 1 km in diameter as threatening), Didymos B. The primary in the system (Didymos A) is an impressive 780 metres across.

Part of a collaborative concept between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is a probe that, when built, is expected to divert the trajectory of space rocks hurtling toward Earth.

"DART would be NASA's first mission to demonstrate what's known as the kinetic impactor technique - striking the asteroid to shift its orbit - to defend against a potential future asteroid impact", said Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Didymos is set to near Earth in 2022 - at which time NASA will launch a fridge-sized spacecraft towards it, hoping to change its direction.

We've all seen those blockbuster movies in which scientists lay out complicated, risky plans to save Earth from an incoming asteroid.

The calculations are vital in determining the capabilities of a direct kinetic impact, which will, in turn, determine whether or not the technique will be effective in deflecting future asteroid impacts.

DART's first mission is to intercept a small, non-threatening asteroid system known as Didymos.

NASA clarified that asteroids strike Earth nearly every day, but most are small and break down as they enter the atmosphere. That way, the agency's boffins can study the effects of an impact with minimal risk to Earth.

NASA has given Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory the go-ahead to start the preliminary design phase of an asteroid deflection mission.

The vehicle itself is the size of a refrigerator and was created to accelerate and hit its target asteroid at around 3.7 miles per second.

"Since we don't know that much about their internal structure or composition, we need to perform this experiment on a real asteroid", Chang said.

"But by doing it well before the predicted impact so that this small nudge will add up over time to a big shift of the asteroid's path away from Earth".

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