NASA and European Space Agency test push asteroids out of the path of collision with Earth

Of all the natural disasters that can strike life on Earth, asteroid strikes are the ones that have the potential to wipe out life as we know it.

Just as the dinosaurs met their fate with the help of a large asteroid some 66 million years ago, humanity would be in serious trouble if a similar event occurred.

Fortunately, scientists are building up a picture of near-Earth asteroids that could one day cause us problems.

Finding asteroids is only the first piece of the puzzle – but scientists also have some ideas about how to avoid potential future collisions.

Two new missions launched by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) will test a way to push Earth-bound asteroids off course.

NASA’s DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission will take off some time after November 24 this year, with the spacecraft reaching the Didymos asteroid system, 11 million kilometers from Earth, about a year later.

There, it will collide with Didymos, a smaller rock orbiting the asteroid.

Was a near-Earth asteroid derailed as part of a safe test? According to Professor Alan Fitzsimmons of the Astrophysical Research Center at Queen’s University Belfast, it is.

“The smart technology the NASA DART team chose is to take an asteroid that can pass close to Earth and then target its moon, because the moon is moving around the larger asteroid while the asteroid is orbiting the sun,” he told Euronews.

“So we will try to move the asteroid moon and that will only change the orbit of the moon around the asteroid and it will hardly affect the big asteroid itself. So it is completely safe.”

ESA’s mission, Hera, will then monitor how DART has affected the movement of the young moon. This will inform researchers about the possibility of breaking large rocks off course, should the need arise.

It’s like a game of “cosmic billiards,” says Professor Fitzsimmons, who is addressing the World Asteroid Day mission (Wednesday, June 30).

“When this asteroid hits our spacecraft, it’s going to move a little bit in the opposite direction. Now, we know this has to work, but we don’t know exactly how much the asteroid is moving. That’s the purpose of space missions, to measure how far we can move an asteroid,” he says. .

This will be humanity’s first planetary defense exercise, according to Professor Fitzsimmons.

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