NASA to "punch" asteroid to prevent impact

NASA to “punch” asteroid to prevent impact

WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED: 

  • NASA is set to launch a mission by July 2021 to prevent asteroids from hitting the Earth.
  • The mission will use a spaceship to deter an asteroid’s orbit. 
  • Up until now, the only option for deterring an asteroid headed for Earth was using nuclear weapons. 

Can you prevent an asteroid from hitting Earth? NASA is trying to prove it can with its plan to punch one. 

As fictitious as it may sound, NASA scientists actually have a strategy in place to prevent future asteroid impacts by “punching” these minor planets away using a spaceship. 

The project, known as the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission, is already in the planning and development phases. NASA and John Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, along with several NASA centers, are working on the project together. 

According to NASA’s website, the project aims to alter an asteroid’s course in space using the “kinetic impactor” technique.

To deflect the asteroid, a spacecraft will crash straight into it at roughly 6.6 kilometers per second. The impact will change the asteroid’s orbit by only a fraction of a percent. But viewed from Earth with a telescope, a change as small as this will be easy for astronomers to measure. 

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will be used for the launch, which is primarily set for July 2021. The DART Mission’s first test is set to take place in the asteroid system Didymos, and the craft is expected to arrive in the system in September 2022. 

Andy Rivkin, astronomer and leader of the DART investigation team, says that before the DART Mission, their only option for deterring an asteroid was the use of nuclear weapons, which were potentially destructive, and even fatal. Using nuclear weapons to deter an asteroid only breaks a large asteroid into smaller rocks that are still likely heading in our direction, which is likely to cause catastrophic damage to the planet. The DART project, on the other hand, only gives the asteroid a subtle nudge. 

A recent statement by NASA clarifies that no asteroid is expected to approach Earth in the next 100 years. Rivkin also emphasized that the DART Mission’s objective is to abolish an existential threat to mankind, so we don’t stay up at night worrying about it. 

 

Source: The Jerusalem Post

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