Ever since humanity found out that an asteroid collision triggered dinosaur extinction, the fear of history repeating itself has lingered on. And then, to make matters worse, we hear about a near-Earth binary asteroid consisting of two bodies being classified as a potentially hazardous asteroid!
All this may sound apocalyptic, but don’t worry, scientists have us covered. Even though 99% of the potentially hazardous objects have no chance of hitting Earth for the next 100 years at least, space agencies are preparing for the worst.
In a recent development, the US space agency NASA and SpaceX have joined hands once again to displace the asteroid Didymos and its moonlet Dimorphos. The aim is to prevent these celestial objects spanning a whopping 780 and 160 metres respectively, from striking the Earth.
Didymos and Dimorphos are Near-Earth Objects (NEOs). These are celestial bodies whose orbits bring them within 30 million miles (4.8 crore kilometres) of the Earth. According to NASA, Didymos (the asteroid) and Dimorphos (its moon) will eventually pass within 6,835,083 miles (1 crore kilometres) of our planet.
The binary asteroid system poses no threat to the Earth at the moment, and the mission will be conducted as the first demonstration to test technologies for asteroid deflection.
NASA will utilise the kinetic impactor technique, which involves delivering one or more high-speed spacecraft into the path of an asteroid in space to change its trajectory, which will be demonstrated for the first time with the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART). The binary near-Earth asteroid Didymos and its moonlet are its targets.
The NASA spacecraft will collide with them to see what happens to its velocity in space. It is expected that the moon’s motion will change by 1%. Though it may not seem like much, it would shorten the revolution period of the celestial bodies by a couple of minutes. This will give scientists enough time to view and measure the explosion using Earth-based telescopes.
The DART mission will be launched aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 10:50 am IST, on November 24, 2021. Live coverage of the launch is set to air on NASA TV, the NASA app, and the space agency’s website.
As per the estimates from NASA, no large space rock is currently on a collision course with Earth. Therefore, the probability of a huge asteroid hitting Earth is quite slim. In fact, no large object is likely to strike the Earth any time in the next several hundred years, as best as we can tell, says NASA.
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