An intergalactic soldier is on its way to save the world…. but in the future4 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
Imagine that you are a dinosaur minding your business, getting a snack with your friends and just enjoying life as it was over a million years ago.
Something has hit the Earth and your whole species has been wiped out!
Now, to protect us humans from such impending doom, NASA has launched a mission to smash a spacecraft into an asteroid – the world’s first to test asteroid-deflecting technology. The space probe will crash into the asteroid to alter its speed and course.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) experiment lifted off at 10:21 pm Pacific Time from Vandenberg Space Force Base near California in the US.
The goal is to slightly alter the trajectory of Dimorphos, a ‘moonlet’ around 525 feet (160 metres, or two Statues of Liberty) wide that circles a much larger asteroid called Didymos (2,500 feet in diameter). The pair orbit the Sun together.
Impact is expected to take place in 2022, when the binary asteroid system is 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometres) from Earth, almost the nearest point they ever get.
Why are they doing this?
In short, so we don’t end up like the dinosaurs!
Scientists point to the extinction of the dinosaurs as proof that asteroids can have a catastrophic impact on the planet – the widely held theory being that they died out from the secondary effects of a huge asteroid colliding with Earth.
In more recent times, in 1908, a meteor that hit Tunguska, Russia, caused a cataclysmic explosion that flattened an estimated 80 million trees in the Siberian forest.
The special test is to find out if the technology is enough if an actual asteroid impact threat were detected in the future.
The good news is that DART’s target asteroid is not a threat to Earth at present, NASA said. But the asteroid belongs to a class of bodies known as Near-Earth Objects (NEOs), which approach within 30 million miles.
“What we’re trying to learn is how to deflect a threat,” NASA’s top scientist Thomas Zuburchen told news agency AFP.
Traveling at about 15,000 mph, the spacecraft, which weighs 1,344 pounds and is 59 feet across, is to collide head-on with Dimorphos.
NASA’s Planetary Defence Coordination Office is most interested in those larger than 460 feet in size, which have the potential to level entire cities or regions with many times the energy of average nuclear bombs.
There are 10,000 known near-Earth asteroids 460 feet in size or greater, but none have a significant chance to hit in the next 100 years. However, scientists think there are still 15,000 more such objects waiting to be discovered.
Owliver’s Obscure Observations
Asteroids that are six miles or wider — such as the one that struck 66 million years ago and led to the extinction of most life on Earth, including the dinosaurs — occur around every 100-200 million years.
Will DART survive?
Unfortunately, no. It is a suicide mission and the spacecraft will be completely destroyed. Across the globe, various telescopes will work together and observe the event and study the impact of DART – changes in the moonlet’s orbit.
Watch this SpaceX video to learn more about the mission.
Sources: Scientific American, Indian Express, NDTV