December 7, 2021

Beyond Going Long

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Preparing Armageddon: NASA will test the DART space system

A NASA spacecraft designed to protect Earth from a catastrophic asteroid collision (similar to the one that destroyed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago) is preparing for launch. The US space agency will conduct a test flight next month to see if the impact of a special probe at a speed of 15,000 kilometers per hour can change the direction of movement of the rocks. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will begin on November 23 with the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a probe on board from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

The target will be the asteroid Demorphos, which orbits the larger asteroid Didymos, about seven million kilometers away. Demorphos, which is 160 meters wide, does not pose a threat to the Earth. However, NASA scientists hope that measuring its response to a DART collision will help them develop a shield against the threat of asteroids colliding with Earth. Scientists expect DART to leave a large crater on the surface of the asteroid Demorphos. Mapping their shape will help them develop the impact models needed to design future drift missions.

Astronomers compare observations from ground-based telescopes before and after DART to calculate the effects of the impact. In August, NASA updated its predictions about the possibility of asteroid Bennu, one of the two most dangerous objects known in our solar system, to hit Earth by the year 2300. According to new calculations, the probability is 1 in 1750, which is slightly higher than previously assumed. However, even with the stakes adjusted, the likelihood of the scenario presented in the sci-fi movie Armageddon from 1998 is slim.

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