Many films have featured a brave group of astronauts on a journey that might mean the difference between life and death; asteroids are usually their nemesis.
These movies include Deep Impact and Armageddon, to name just a few. In the movies, viewers witness how the heroes use a nuclear bomb to prevent the asteroid from striking the Earth.
Contrary to common belief, scientists do not believe it is possible to entirely disintegrate a massive quantity of rock traveling at a speed of 1,000 kilometers per hour or more towards space.
The solution, according to experts, is to simply use a tiny spaceship to gently and safely knock a piece of space rock off track.
And this week, NASA did just that when one of its spacecraft crashed with an asteroid. Before the asteroid destroyed the machine, its photographs were captured and relayed to the headquarters.
Then, the robotic arm of NASA made contact with the asteroid Dimorphos.
The crew believed that the strategy had been effective and that it would only be a matter of months before it was known whether or not the asteroid had been successfully pushed off course.
However, Elena Adams, the mission’s systems engineer, claimed that when the vessel ultimately collided with Dimorphos, the party that was oblivious to the incident was overcome with fear and elation.
The project is a component of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), which NASA launched seven years ago.
In November of last year, the spacecraft was sent into orbit as part of a $300 million mission to execute a move that would determine humanity’s ability to defend the Earth from space debris headed for a collision with the planet.
Before the team would get the outcomes they were hoping for, scientists predicted it would take two months. If the asteroid is deflected, the mission is successful.
If it follows the same course, though, NASA will need to come up with another strategy.
“This really is about asteroid deflection, not disruption. This isn’t going to blow up the asteroid,” Nancy Chabot said, the coordination lead of DART.
Deflecting the asteroid’s orbit
Since Dimorphos is 7 million kilometers from Earth, it does not endanger life in any manner. The asteroid, which is roughly 525 feet wide, is fascinating because it orbits another, bigger asteroid.
NASA further said that the changes brought about by DART would not be sufficient to harm Earthly life.
“There is no scenario in which one or the other body can become a threat to the Earth. It’s just not scientifically possible, just because of momentum conservation and other things,” Thomas Zurbuchen from the NASA science mission directorate said.
DART’s objective is to shorten the time required for Dimorphos to complete an orbit around the larger asteroid. According to data, the smaller asteroid does one circle in around 11 hours and 55 minutes.
Dimorphos should now be performing a complete orbit every 11 hours and 45 minutes if the DART mission is successful.
“The bottom line is, it’s a great thing. Someday, we are going to find an asteroid which has a high probability of hitting the Earth, and we are going to want to deflect it. When that happens, we should have, in advance, some experience knowing that this would work,” stated Ed Lu, Asteroid Institute executive director.
More work for NASA
NASA DART scientists put forth more effort to advance the research since they are aware of how important their work is.
“We’re moving an asteroid. We are changing the motion of a natural celestial body in space. Humanity has never done that before. This is stuff of science fiction books and really corny episodes of Star Trek from when I was a kid, and now it’s real. And that’s kind of astonishing that we are actually doing that, and what that bodes for the future of what we can do,” explained Tom Statler, a DART program scientist.
“It’s something that we need to get done so that we know what’s out there and know what’s coming and have adequate time to prepare for it,” added Planetary Defense Officer at NASA, Lindley Johnson.
Photo Credit: NASA