A massive asteroid could be a threat to our planet. There were a few of these astronomical objects that came close to the Earth’s atmosphere already, so NASA has taken action against a possible asteroid impact. They have built a spacecraft to combat rogue asteroids, and the team is excited to test it!
Last year, Hayabusa2 was the first spacecraft to be fire a bomb at Asteroid Ryugu. The Japanese spacecraft was put in action to try collecting a sample of the astronomical object. Now NASA is ready for bigger and violent plans asteroid attacks.
NASA plans to protect Earth from any possible asteroid impact
The US wants to test the last line of our planet’s defense by firing a space probe into space rock. The probe’s suicide mission is called the DART mission, and its goal is to lower the chances of the asteroid hitting (potentially) the Earth. As mentioned above, asteroids have been traveling past our planet for billions of years, so the threat was always there.
The Earth is hit by over 100 tons of dust and particles the size of sand every day, estimates NASA. However, there were space rocks in the past that posed a threat to the life on Earth. This type of danger happens once every few million years, and it’s best if we are prepared.
“For us, this is an exciting first data point to compare with simulations, but we have a much larger impact to look forward to in future, as part of the forthcoming double-spacecraft Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission,” said Patrick Michel, director of research at France’s Côte d’Azur Observatory.
“In late 2022, the US Double Asteroid Redirect Test or DART spacecraft will crash into the smaller of the two Didymos asteroids.
“As with Hayabusa2’s SCI test, it should form a very distinct crater and expose subsurface material in an even lower gravity environment, but its main purpose is to actually divert the orbit of the 160 m diameter ‘Didymoon’ asteroid in a measurable way.”
The mission of NASA’s DART
The mission goal of NASA’s space probe is to hit the Didymoon asteroid. This experiment is to see if the asteroid will actually deflect. The 550kg space probe will smash into the smaller size of the Didymoon asteroid with a speed of 13,400 mph.
At the moment, the teams only assume that hitting a space rock, which is five times smaller with a more massive spacecraft that moves faster, will create the effect wanted. However, to understand how an asteroid can be diverted, they will need more backup.
“The actual relation between projectile size, speed and crater size in low gravity environments is still poorly understood,” said Michel. “Having both Small Carry-on Impactor (SCI) and Hera data on crater sizes in two different impact speed regimes will offer crucial insights. These scaling laws are also crucial on a practical basis because they underpin how our calculations are estimating the efficiency of asteroid deflection is made, taking account of the properties of the asteroid material as well as the impact velocity involved,” he added.
“This is why Hera is so important; not only will we have DART’s full-scale test of asteroid deflection in space, but also Hera’s detailed follow-up survey to discover Didymoon’s composition and structure. Hera will also record the precise shape of the DART crater, right down to the centimeter scale. So, building on this Hayabusa2 impact experiment, DART and Hera between them will go on to close the gap in asteroid deflection techniques, bringing us to a point where such a method might be used for real,” Michel said.
NASA’s DART mission is vital to help us get ready in case of an asteroid impact emergencies, and the small Didymoon asteroid is the perfect subject of testing.