NASA tests planetary defense by colliding with an asteroid

Heart rates soar in suburban Washington, where scientists and engineers Monday night hope to watch a spacecraft the size of a vending machine, 7 million miles from Earth, crash into an asteroid.

If everything goes as planned, and the laws of gravity and motion don’t change at the last minute, it will happen at 7:14 PM ET – or to be precise: 7:14:23.

There’s nothing big at stake here, other than demonstrating technology that might one day save civilization.

It is important to note that the target asteroid is not a threat to Earth and has not done anything wrong to deserve this attention. But the space collision is a defining moment for the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), NASA’s first “planetary defense” test.

This mission is designed to show how a “kinetic collision” can deflect a potentially dangerous asteroid that collides with Earth. There are plenty of space rocks that could interrupt our usual peaceful journey around the sun. The general strategy in planetary defense is to change the orbits of the asteroids so that if they come close to Earth, they will pass unharmed.

The members of the DART team are confident that they will succeed, but they admit that this is not a severe blow. You can miss the spacecraft. There will be no consolation for the scientists and engineers if they just hit the target. These aren’t horseshoes or grenades: closures don’t count when you’re trying to change the course of an asteroid.

“Mission success is very clear: You need to hit this asteroid,” said Elena Adams, an engineer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, who is conducting the mission under contract with NASA.

The asteroid is called Demorphos. It has a diameter of about 500 feet. Nobody knows exactly what it looks like. It’s just a blurry point in telescopes. It would be the first time Earthlings got a closer look at it, less than an hour before the collision.

Demorphos orbits another, larger asteroid, called Didymos (meaning “twin” in Greek), both of which orbit the Sun. These “binary” asteroids are common.

The spacecraft was launched last November from California. The larger asteroid mainly serves as a guide star for the mission. But only the smaller asteroid is targeted. As the spacecraft approaches Didymus the Great, you should see little Demorphos swinging from behind his companion. It will be a head-on collision.

Things would definitely be tense in Laurel’s mission operations room. The Applied Physics Laboratory handles a lot of classified government research but sometimes does fantastic space missions. Seven years ago, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft successfully flew by Pluto and took the first close-up photos of the dwarf planet.

This is how NASA plans to hit an asteroid

This task is similar in that it is fraught with difficulties and uncertainties. The spacecraft must make critical navigational decisions at the last second independently. Flying a spacecraft at high speed – about 14,000 miles per hour – to a relatively small asteroid is something no one has done before.

If the DART spacecraft misses the target, it will theoretically have a second chance to face a crash with Dimorphos in another two years — but the engineers aren’t even thinking of taking a mulligan.

Previous space science missions by NASA and the Japan Space Agency have taken samples of asteroids, but those were carefully designed for convergence using incremental approaches. DART visualizes a high-speed crash. Scientists and engineers responsible for the mission say they won’t know if they’ll hit the asteroid about 20 seconds before the impact.

“Asteroids are very dark,” Adams said. “We have to hit something the size of two pitches. You can only see them about an hour before you hit them….even in this case it’s just a pixel in the camera.”

Mission engineers are making their final adjustments to the spacecraft’s trajectory, but the final approach, in the hours before the expected collision, will be automated. The camera on board the spacecraft will take pictures of the smaller asteroid while at the same time helping the craft reach the target.

the last Pictures Transmitted by the spacecraft’s camera it will show a small white dot growing into something brighter, bigger and more asteroid. Then, if all goes as hoped, Dimorphos will loom so large that it fills the field of view.

This will be the last thing for anyone You will see that the spacecraft makes the ultimate sacrifice.

Telescopes on Earth as well as Webb and Hubble in space will also be watching the influence.

The most worrisome asteroids with potential global climate repercussions are asteroids larger than one kilometer in diameter. It’s the easiest to spot. More than 95 percent of the estimated population of these deadly rocks have been identified, said planetary scientist Nancy Chabot, DART coordination lead.

Less than half of the asteroids between 140 meters and 1 kilometer in height have been identified. This is an ongoing effort. Rocks in this size range – and Demorphos is one of them – can wipe out a large city with a direct hit. Chabot said early detection is key to planetary defense.

“This is something you didn’t do at the last minute. This is something you’ve been doing years ago,” she said.

NASA and its partners have a catalog of 30,000 objects at this point, said the agency’s planetary defense officer, Lindley Johnson. Scientists can calculate their orbits a few decades into the future, but as the timescale increases, so does orbital uncertainties.

There is no dangerous asteroid For now, Johnson said, he appears to be on the right track to get to Earth, to the point where these things can be accounted for. But he will keep a close eye on the asteroid redirection test on Monday night.

“We should have such technology,” he said. “It would be wise to have it all tested early on, so we’re not trying to do it for the first time when we really need it to work.”

Leave a Comment