A cosmic crash in 2022 will involve an asteroid. But not to worry, as said asteroid will not impact Earth. Instead, scientists in Europe and the United States will intentionally smash a spacecraft into a massive nearby asteroid.
Their goal in creating the cosmic crash is to see inside the space rock. The European-led Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission (AIDA) will launch in 2019.
One of the spacecraft will be built in the United States, while the other is being built by the European Space Agency. They will have a three-year voyage to the asteroid Didymos, along with its companion. The massive asteroid is in no danger of impacting Earth, making it a prime target for the mission.
Didymos is described as a binary asteroid system. It includes two separate space rocks which have been bound together by gravity. The main asteroid measures 2,625 feet across, while a smaller asteroid measuring about 490 feet orbits it. Scientists also picked Didymos because it will allow them their first close look at a binary space rock system.
The system will also allow for new insights into how we can deflect dangerous asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth. Andy Rivkin, a scientist at Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, stated that binary systems like Didymos are common. Despite this, “this will be our first rendezvous” with one.
The Didymos asteroids will be about 6.8 million miles from Earth when the cosmic crash of 2022 happens. This will be their close approach, which is why the mission is timed for that year. DART (the Double Asteroid Redirection Test) is one of the spacecraft involved. It will be built by Rivkin and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory.
Meanwhile, the Asteroid Impact Monitor (AIM) is being produced by the European Space Agency (ESA). While the DART probe will crash directly into the asteroid, AIM will observe the impact from a safe distance. The cosmic crash will take place at 14,000 mph. It is expected that DART will create a crater and hopefully send the asteroid slightly off course.
While DART sacrifices itself, AIM will send data back to Earth so that scientists can uncover what the impact does to the asteroid. Telescopes on Earth will also gather data about the collision. AIDA scientists hope that their mission will push Didymos’ smaller asteroid off course by a few millimeters.
Ultimately, the project will study what happens when a spacecraft directly impacts an asteroid. If the mission is successful, it could serve as a way for agencies to deflect asteroids on a collision course with Earth — provided the asteroids are detected in time. It will also help them see hos debris floats from the impact site after the crash. The research will help with NASA’s project to send astronauts to an asteroid by the year 2025.
There is no word on how much the cosmic crash of 2022 will cost, though the AIM craft will cost about $194 million. The DART spacecraft has a price tag of around $150 million.
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