NASA announced that they are planning a test of a new system designed to protect us from potentially Earth-ending objects like asteroids and comets. To test the system, the space agency is planning to deflect a small asteroid which is currently approaching Earths orbit. According to the space agency, they plan to redirect the course of a small asteroid approaching Earth, as part of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), according to a NASA press release.
Being struck by asteroids is nothing new for the Earth, in fact, our planet is struck almost everyday by at least one of them. But the vast majority are so small that they simply burn-up in the atmosphere. But NASA officials say the DART project, which is a joint effort between NASA and the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, was designed to step in and breakup any asteroids that are too big to burn up and would strike the Earth creating major damage and possible extinction consequences if they hit us.
Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defense officer in Washington, said in a press release, “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. This approval step advances the project toward an historic test with a non-threatening small asteroid.”
The target is part of an asteroid system called Didymos. It is a binary asteroid system, made up of two asteroids, Didymos A, and a smaller one, Didymos B, which orbits its larger neighbor. As Didymos makes an approach near Earth in October 2022, NASA will launch a refrigerator-sized spacecraft towards the asteroids, aimed at Didymos B, the release said. When the DART spacecraft and the asteroid collide, the spacecraft will be traveling at a staggering 3.7 miles per second.
NASA officials said, “The kinetic impact technique works by changing the speed of a threatening asteroid by a small fraction of its total velocity. 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.”
Scientists will then study the results of the impact and what if any effect it has on Didymos B’s orbit around Didymos A. This will allow them to determine if this type of system can be used to design a weapon around that will save the planet.