The asteroid NASA is about to strike doesn’t pose a threat to Earth, but 60% of city-destroying rocks fly under the radar

The asteroid NASA is about to strike doesn’t pose a threat to Earth, but 60% of city-destroying rocks fly under the radar

illustration shows spaceship with two long solar panel wings and blue engine fire approaching an asteroid

Illustration of DART approaching Dimorphos.NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

NASA is about to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid, obliterating the probe and poking at the space rock.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is aiming for an asteroid called Dimorphos, which is orbiting a giant asteroid called Didymos. By colliding with it, NASA hopes to push the smaller space rock into a new orbit closer to its parent asteroid. The impact, scheduled for Monday, is a practice to deflect dangerous asteroids away from our planet.

Infographic showing the effect of the impact of the DART spacecraft on the orbit of the asteroid Dimorphos

When DART impacts Dimorphos, it should push the asteroid into a new orbit closer to Didymos.NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

Dimorphos is 163 meters (535 feet) wide – big enough to destroy a city like New York. This is not a cause for concern, as it is not on an Earth-bound trajectory, and DART will not change its path through the solar system. But that makes it perfect practice for one of the biggest threats in our cosmic neighborhood: city-destroying asteroids, reaching 140 meters (460 feet) or more.

Having a tried-and-true deflection method will not help protect Earth from asteroids if no one sees them coming. Experts previously told Insider that NASA would need five to 10 years to build and launch a custom mission to deflect an incoming asteroid. To date, scientists have identified only 40% of city-destroying asteroids orbiting close to Earth, NASA estimates. Nobody knows where the others are, or where they are going.

edited asteroid dimorphs next to the Colosseum in Rome showing they are the same size

The asteroid Dimorphos 160 meters in diameter compared to the Coliseum in Rome.ESA-Office of Science

“Of course, you can’t use any mitigation technique unless you know where the asteroids are,” Amy Mainzer, an astronomer at the University of Arizona, told Insider via email.

In 2005, Congress mandated that NASA catalog 90% of these asteroids larger than 140 meters. Mainzer is working on a space telescope called the Near-Earth Object (NEO) Surveyor, designed to fulfill this objective.

NEO Surveyor has made slow progress in NASA’s mission development process, but has recently received a budget injection to propel it into launch.

“The clock is ticking,” Mainzer previously told Insider. “We really want to take off as soon as possible.”

Smaller asteroids are already approaching us

Asteroids have surprised humans a few times in recent years.

asteroid russia Chelyabinsk

A house-sized asteroid crosses the skies over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013.SHOVEL

In 2013, a house-sized asteroid screamed in the skies above Chelyabinsk, Russia, and exploded. The blast sent a shock wave that shattered windows, damaged buildings and injured more than 1,400 people. No one on Earth saw this happen. That same day, a larger asteroid came within 17,000 miles of the planet.

Jim Bridenstine, who served as NASA’s administrator under the Trump administration, said in 2019 that the agency’s modeling suggested that an event like the Chelyabinsk meteor occurs every 60 years.

But the Chelyabinsk rock was small – about 15 meters wide. In 2019, a 427-foot “city-killing” space rock flew 45,000 miles from Earth, and NASA had almost no warning about it.

people in winter coats gather around a large dark rock wrapped in straps and rope

People look at what scientists believe is a piece of the Chelyabinsk meteor retrieved from Lake Chebarkul near Chelyabinsk on October 16, 2013.Photo by Alexander Firsov/AP

Then, in 2020, a car-sized asteroid passed closer to Earth than any known space rock has ever come without crashing. It missed our planet by about 1,830 miles. Astronomers didn’t know the asteroid existed until about six hours after it passed. Nobody saw him arrive, because he was approaching towards the sun.

Ground-based telescopes can only observe the sky at night, which means they miss almost everything that flies at us from the sun. The NEO Surveyor, from its perch in Earth orbit, would be able to detect these space rocks. Because it would use infrared light, it could also detect asteroids that are too dark for Earth-based telescopes.

The asteroid spy telescope had a huge budget boost in 2022

spaceship discovery asteroid hunter neocam nasa jpl caltech

An artist’s concept of the NEO Surveyor space telescope.NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mainzer first came up with the idea of ​​an asteroid-hunting space telescope in 2006. NASA refused to take it on a mission, funding other projects. She submitted proposals in 2010 and 2015 as well, but the agency kept passing by.

The NEO Surveyor finally became an official NASA mission in 2019. Then the project languished in what NASA calls “Phase A” – a stage focusing on technology design and development. Last year, NEO Surveyor underwent a major overhaul and moved into Phase B, allowing Mainzer and his team to begin building prototypes and developing hardware and software.

Congress and President Joe Biden then approved a budget of $143.2 million for the telescope in 2022. That’s a significant increase from the $28 million the mission received in 2021. NASA intends to launch the telescope. mission in the mid-2020s.

Once in orbit, NEO Surveyor is expected to spend 10 years increasing NASA’s catalog of 40% of city-killing asteroids up to 90%. After that, researchers can move on to smaller classes of asteroids, like the one that shocked Chelyabinsk.

If the DART impact goes according to plan on Monday, NASA will be better equipped to deflect any Earth-bound asteroids the NEO Surveyor might discover.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.