About 65 million years ago, an asteroid hit the earth. According to the Planetary Science Institute, this asteroid was about 6 miles in diameter and created a crater that was about 110 miles across. Debris from the massive explosion went up into the atmosphere, altered the climate and lead to the extinction of almost 3/4ths of the species that existed at the time.
While we cannot even comprehend just how big the universe is, it’s inevitable that another asteroid of that size or larger will eventually hit our beloved planet.
Bruce Willis’s character, Harry Stamper, saves the earth in the 1998 hit movie, Armageddon. Hollywood aside, did you know that NASA has a Planetary Defense Coordination Office? This office provides early detection of hazardous objects, tracks them and issues warnings of potential impacts and what their effects would be. They also study ways to alleviate the impacts and play a role in coordinating how the US government plans for response to an actual threat!
Say what’s up to NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission!
DART is a mission directed by NASA to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and support from NASA centers to test technologies for preventing a hazardous asteroid from hitting the Earth.
With a targeted launch at 10:20 p.m. PST on Tuesday, November 23, 2021 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, DART will be the first demonstration of the kinetic impactor technique to change the trajectory of an asteroid in space.
The target asteroid for the DART demonstration is Didymos. Didymos is about 2,560 feet across and has it’s only moonlet, which is about 525 feet across. According to NASA, the moonlet is about the average size of an asteroid that threatens the Earth.
It will take DART just over a year to cruise on over to Didymos’s moonlet (arrival estimated for September 2022). At that time, Didymos will be about 6.8 million miles from Earth.
The DART spacecraft will deliberately crash itself into the moonlet at a speed of about 14,700 miles per hour, with the aid of an onboard camera named DRACO and some cool autonomous navigation software. The collision will change the speed of the moonlet around Didymos by a fraction of 1%. This impact will change the orbital period of the moonlet by several minutes – which is enough to be observed and measured back on Earth.