NASA Pushes Through With Asteroid Deflection Mission That Could One Day Save Earth

NASA is moving ahead with its DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission to test if they are capable of deflecting an incoming asteroid from hitting Earth, potentially preventing humankind from going the way of the dinosaurs, literally speaking.

As reported by ZDNet, researchers from the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory have already started on the program's design phase, and by its completion are hoping to demonstrate what they call the asteroid deflection technique, otherwise called the kinetic impactor technique. To carry out the plan, scientists will be launching into space a refrigerator-sized spacecraft "capable of deflecting asteroids and preventing them from colliding with Earth."

"DART is a critical step in demonstrating we can protect our planet from a future asteroid impact," saidAndy Cheng, DART co-leader. "Since we don't know that much about their internal structure or composition, we need to perform this experiment on a real asteroid."

"With DART, we can show how to protect Earth from an asteroid strike with a kinetic impactor by knocking the hazardous object into a different flight path that would not threaten the planet," he added.

NASA's DART mission, announced just after Asteroid Day (June 30) -- an annual science convention that aims to raise public awareness of the threats Near-Earth Objects pose -- aims to deflect an asteroid binary system called Didymos in the hopes that the impact will make it shift its orbit. Didymos is a twin asteroid with two bodies, the first one being Didymos A, which is 780 meters in size, and the smaller Didymos B, which comes in at 160 meters and orbits the first one. Scientists are expecting the asteroid to pass by Earth at a safe distance in October 2022, before returning in 2024.

When Didymos returns in 2024, NASA intends to demonstrate the "kinetic impactor technique" on Didymus B, the orbiting of which makes it easier for scientists to see the results of the impact. The small spacecraft is expected to hit the Didymos B at 37 miles per second (about nine times faster than a speeding bullet), and while it would be obliterated on impact, it give the asteroid the required nudge to reduce its velocity, which in effect would alter its orbit around Didymos A.
The event where the spacecraft hits Didymos won't be visible to the naked eye, but NASA will be recording it.

As reported by Science Alert, NASA scientists will be monitoring and studying the collision and its aftermath inside Earth-based observatories. If the mission becomes a success, we'll be taking a big step forward into figuring out how to defend Earth from asteroids that are on a grand collision course towards it in the future.

[Featured Image by AuntSpray/Shutterstock]