Could space technology change an asteroid’s path? What would be the fate of our planet if it were headed in Earth’s direction? Humanity has faced such questions many times in Hollywood movies, and we will soon get the answer in practice – and not because we are in any danger, but because for the first time in history, NASA will send a spacecraft into the path of a harmless asteroid several million kilometers away. , and then observed how the collision would affect its orbit.
Despite the fact that NASA’s Dart spacecraft will crash into Dimorphos, nearly 10 million kilometers away, at 22,500 km/h, scientists predict that the 160-meter asteroid will not explode, but will leave a larger crater. At the same time, about a million kilograms of stone are supposed to fly into space. Particles can be tens of meters in size.
Dimorphos and its bigger twin brother, the 760-meter Didymos, were discovered in 1996, and the former was chosen for the collision for two reasons – in the event of an unexpected change in direction, it would not be harmless to Earth, and at the same time, its direction also depends on its ‘brother ‘ around which it orbits.
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Since it is a smaller rock, NASA experts estimate that the collision between the 570-kilogram craft and the 5 billion-kilogram asteroid could release enough energy to change Dimorphos’ orbit. “This would not cause a disturbance, only a deflection. Otherwise, the collision could also be jokingly described as driving a small golf cart into a large pyramid,” said the planetary scientist and mission leader at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory Nancy Chabot.
It also ensures that the Dart craft will be equipped with a small camera and navigation system that will help it distinguish between a larger and a smaller asteroid so that it doesn’t accidentally crash into Dymphos. But it could happen that he misses both. “There’s a 10 percent chance of that,” said Chabot. In this case, Dart will meet the asteroids again in a few years.
But what exactly will happen in the event of a collision and will we be able to see it?
In addition to the already mentioned mass of stones and dust, there will also be a strong flash of light upon impact. All nearby space satellites, NASA’s ‘asteroid hunter’ Lucy and telescopes on all seven continents, including Hubble and Webb, will be focused on the event, reports Euronews.
If Dimorphos now orbits Didymos in 11 hours and 55 seconds, the journey after the collision could take ten minutes less, according to the university center. After some time, the now 1.2 kilometer distance between the two asteroids would decrease even further.
The consequences will also be studied for two years by the European Space Agency, which will send the Hera spacecraft into space in 2024.
“So if we were to do this to defend the planet, we would do it five, 10, 15, 20 years in advance for this technique to work and save us,” said Chabot, adding that the experiment will provide valuable insight into the situation “just in case such a danger really threatens us”. “Such dangers exist and we are lucky to live in a time when we can do something about them,” the astrophysicist said about the first attempt to change the trajectory of an asteroid Thomas Zurbuchen.