But, he continues, once you see an asteroid coming this way, the question is what to do about it. Scientists have debated that at least since the Tunguska Impact of 1908, when an asteroid exploded over Siberia and, with the power of multiple atomic bombs, took out 80 million trees over a frozen expanse of 830 square miles. Astronomers have since counted 1,097,558 of the rocky, airless remnants, as NASA puts it, in our solar system. Sometimes, one of them can enter Earths orbit, the prospect of which fuels the imaginations of science fiction writers and the nightmares of astronomers alike.
Collision course Developed by a team of scientists from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and NASAs Planetary Defense Coordination Office, DART is an unmanned, remotely controlled astronomical suicide mission designed to nudge an asteroid that is half a mile in diameter out of its orbit. Doomsayers take note: This is only a test. The asteroid in question, Didymos Greek for twin, and so named because it was discovered to be paired with its own small moon is not actually on a collision course with Earth.
And now we have a tentative answer to the threat of an asteroid colliding, to cataclysmic effect, with our planet: NASAs Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART. Sometime between Thanksgiving week (perhaps as soon as the evening of Nov. 23) and February 2022, the team behind DART will launch it from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The spacecraft will, if all goes according to plan, travel 6.8 million miles to reach and collide with Didymoss moonlet, Dimorphos, which is 525 feet in diameter.
We do. The American science fiction writer Larry Niven once said, The dinosaurs became extinct because they didnt have a space program.
Success will destroy DART but also provide data on how the collision alters the speed of the moon around its larger companion. The goal: to learn how to speed up or slow down an asteroids transit so that it can be done again if and when the asteroid in question is headed for Earth. DART will also ferry a shoebox-sized spacecraft contributed by the Italian Space Agency. Several days before DARTs impact with Dimorphos, that little craft, the LICIACube (Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids), will separate from DART to capture images of the impact.
If you know an asteroids orbit for a long time and have advance warning, and if you think it will hit the Earth, even a tiny nudge far away will change the trajectory of the asteroid and save the Earth, says Michael J. Neufeld, senior curator of the National Air and Space Museum. An artists rendition of NASAs Double Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraft, which, if all goes well, will slam into an asteroid and knock it into a different orbit. NASA/NYT Only a little tap from DART will make an enormous difference.
- Headline: The following asteroid collision is just a test
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