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Watch: NASA announces asteroid deflection mission, plans to launch spacecraft at asteroid nearing EarthA doomsday scenario in which a large asteroid pummels into the Earth is a real danger that NASA and other space agencies and institutions are working hard to prepare for. On Friday, NASA announced it would launch the DART spacecraft at a small non-threatening asteroid due for impact in 2022 as their first experiment.
On Friday, NASA announced its plans to divert a small asteroid that is headed to Earth in the coming years. The Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) Mission will be the first of its kind under NASA, in collaboration with other international agencies, aimed at dealing with large life-endangering asteroids. If the experiment succeeds, the agency will be able to remove one scenario from its list of doomsday dangers.
NASA clarified that asteroids strike Earth almost every day, but most are small and break down as they enter the atmosphere. Therefore, AIDA will be the first demonstration of this diversion technique using NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) a joint venture between NASA and Johns Hopkin’s University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland.
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The target of the experiment is an asteroid system called Didymos, which means twins in Greek, located 6.8 million miles away. Didymos is a binary system of asteroids composed of two rocks: the larger Didymos A, and the smaller Didymos B, which orbits the former.
“DART would be NASA's first mission to demonstrate what's known as the kinetic impactor technique -- striking the asteroid to shift its orbit -- to defend against a potential future asteroid impact,” said Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This approval step advances the project toward an historic test with a non-threatening small asteroid.”
The pair of asteroids are expected to reach Earth in October 2022, when NASA will launch a probe the size of a refrigerator towards the smaller asteroid. At the moment of impact, the spacecraft will fly at an speed of 3.7 miles per second, nine times faster than the speed of a bullet.
“DART is a critical step in demonstrating we can protect our planet from a future asteroid impact,” said Andy Cheng of The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. “Since we don't know that much about their internal structure or composition, we need to perform this experiment on a real asteroid. With DART, we can show how to protect Earth from an asteroid strike with a kinetic impactor by knocking the hazardous object into a different flight path that would not threaten the planet.”
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