NASA gears up to deflect asteroid, in key test of planetary defense

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The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spaceship launched from California aftermost November and is fast abutting its target, which it will bang at almost 14,000 mile per hour (23,000 kph).

 Handout / NASA / AFP.

(FILES) This book artist's analogy acquired from NASA on November 4, 2021 shows the DART aircraft from abaft above-mentioned to appulse at the Didymos bifold system. Picture: Handout / NASA / AFP.

| 23 September 2022 05:31

WASHINGTON - NASA on Monday will attack a accomplishment altruism has never afore accomplished: advisedly smacking a aircraft into an asteroid to hardly avert its orbit, in a key analysis of our adeptness to stop catholic gadgets from adverse activity on Earth.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spaceship launched from California aftermost November and is fast abutting its target, which it will bang at almost 14,000 mile per hour (23,000 kph).

To be sure, neither the asteroid moonlet Dimorphos, nor the big brother it orbits, alleged Didymos, affectation any blackmail as the brace bend the Sun, casual anytime seven million mile from Earth at abutting approach.

But the agreement is one NASA has accounted basic to backpack out afore an absolute choose is discovered.

"This is an agitative time, not alone for the agency, about in amplitude history and in the history of humankind pretty frankly," Lindley Johnson, a all-embracing safety administrator for NASA informed reporters in a appointment Thursday.

If all goes to plan, appulse amid the car-sized spacecraft, and the 530-foot (160 meters, or two Statues of Liberty) asteroid should booty abode at 7:14pm Eastern Time (2314 GMT), and can be followed on a NASA livestream.

By arresting Dimorphos arch on, NASA hopes to advance it into a abate orbit, atom ten mins off the time it takes to band Didymos, which is currently 11 hours and 55 mins -- a change which will be detected by arena telescopes in the days which follow.

The proof-of-concept agreement will accomplish a absoluteness what has afore alone been attempted in science fiction -- conspicuously films such as "Armageddon" and "Don't Look Up."

As the ability propels itself by space, aerial apart for the mission's final appearance like a self-guided missile, its capital camera system, alleged DRACO, will begin to axle bottomward the actual first pictures of Dimorphos.

"It's activity to begin off as a little point of ablaze and again eventually it's activity to zoom and ample the accomplished absolute acreage of view," answered Nancy Chabot of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), which hosts mission ascendancy in a contempo briefing.

"These pictures will abide until they don't," added the all-embracing scientist.

Minutes later, a toaster-sized accessory alleged LICIACube, which afar from DART a brace of weeks earlier, will accomplish a abutting move of the armpit to abduction pictures of the blow and the ejecta -- the burst bedrock befuddled off by impact.

LICIACube's account will be beatific alternate in the weeks and months which follow.

Also watching the event: an arrangement of telescopes, both on Earth and in amplitude -- including the lately operational James Webb -- which could be able to see a brightening billow of dust.

Finally, a abounding account of what the arrangement looks like will be appear while a European Space Agency mission four years bottomward the band alleged Hera arrives to analysis Dimorphos's apparent and admeasurement its mass, which scientists can alone assumption at currently.

Very few of the billions of asteroids and comets in our solar arrangement are advised potentially chancy to our planet, and none in the abutting hundred or so years.

But "I agreement to you which if you delay continued enough, there will be an object," answered Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's arch scientist.

We apperceive which from the geological almanac -- for example, the six-mile advanced Chicxulub asteroid addled Earth 66 million years ago, coast the apple into a continued winter which led to the accumulation afterlife of the dinosaurs alternating with 75 % of species.

An asteroid the admeasurement of Dimorphos, by contrast, would alone account a local impact, such as adverse a city, admitting with a greater force than any nuclear bomb in history.

Scientists are also acquisitive to accumulate admired new advice which can acquaint them about the attributes of asteroids further generally.

How abundant drive DART imparts on Dimorphos will depend on whether the asteroid is solid rock, or further like a "rubbish pile" of boulders bedfast by alternate gravity, a acreage that's not yet known.

We also don't apperceive its absolute shape: whether it's further like a dog cartilage or a donut, about NASA engineers are assured DART's SmartNav advice arrangement will hit its target.

If it misses, NASA will have addition attempt in two years' time, with the spaceship absolute alone abundant ammunition for addition pass.

But if it succeeds, again it's a first footfall appear a apple able of arresting itself from a approaching existential threat, answered Chabot.

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