There are regular reports that an asteroid may fall to Earth. One of the news of this kind appeared in March 2022 – then it was reported that asteroid 2009 JF1 was flying towards our planet.
According to experts, the fall of an object the size of an Egyptian pyramid could release energy ten times greater than the atomic explosion in Hiroshima in 1945. Fortunately, no catastrophe has occurred so far, but our planet continues to be at risk of destruction by space object.
NASA/Johns Hopkins APL
To save humanity, NASA develops DART technology to alter the trajectory of asteroids. In September 2022, the first test of the system will take place – a special spacecraft will crash into the Dimorph asteroid and this process will be broadcast live.
The kamikaze DART was launched into space in November 2021. It was launched into low Earth orbit using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle. Everything went perfectly: the rocket’s first stage launched the impact probe into low Earth orbit and landed on a floating platform, and the DART device deployed solar panels and headed for Dimorph, a satellite of the asteroid Didymus.
The diameter of the asteroid Didymus is 750 meters, and its companion is much smaller – 160 meters. Scientists believe that the large asteroid and even more so its satellite do not pose a danger to humanity. They will not become more dangerous even in case of an unforeseen change in the trajectory of movement, which is why NASA chose the satellite Dimorph as the target for the test of the Earth’s protection system from asteroids.
The collision of the probe with the asteroid
For many months, NASA experts have been calculating the exact trajectory of the asteroid Dimorph. For this purpose, they used an array of telescopes: the Lowell Discovery in Arizona, the Las Campanas Observatory in the Atacama Desert, and the Southern Astrophysical Research Telescope in Chile. Astronomers wanted to know exactly when the asteroid would come closest to Earth and if anything bad might happen after the collision.
NASA/Johns Hopkins APL
“We don’t want to be at the last minute saying, ‘Oh, something happened that we didn’t think about,'” explains astronomer Nick Moskowitz of Lowell Discovery.
All the necessary calculations have already been done and the DART mission managers are preparing for the collision. The probe is expected to crash into the asteroid on September 27 at 2:14 a.m. Bulgarian time. Experts have previously compared this process to a collision of a golf cart with a huge pyramid. Since the flight speed of the DART device will be 24,000 kilometers per hour, it should be able to change the trajectory of the asteroid Dimorph.
The DART mission will be broadcast live
The historically important event will take place at a distance of 11 million kilometers from Earth, and science lovers will be able to watch the event online – a live broadcast will take place on YouTube. It is true that to see this spectacle, you have to give up sleep. Don’t expect to see live video of the impact itself, though.
Although DART is equipped with a Reconnaissance Camera and Optical Navigation Camera (DRACO), this instrument is used to autonomously navigate the spacecraft to Dimorph, as well as photograph the surface of the asteroid as DART approaches. But the impact would interrupt the camera’s data feed and destroy the spacecraft.
In the future, we will learn many details about the consequences of the collision. In 2024, the European Space Agency (ESA) will launch the Hera spacecraft. It will arrive at asteroid Dimorph in December 2026 and survey any damage caused by the DART device. In addition, Hera will be equipped with two small cubesats that will land on the surface of the object and study its composition.
China is also developing its own system to protect the Earth from asteroids. In October 2021, the first Planetary Defense Conference was held in China, where papers and presentations were presented on a number of related issues.
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