Protecting Earth From Deadly Asteroids
How realistic was the movie Armgegeddon? According to MIT professor Richard Binzel, not very. He’s the inventor of the Torino scale, which assigns a 10-point scale to asteroids. Most of them are in the zero to one range — so they are tiny.
However, in 2013, a 60-foot meteor that landed in Russia injured 1,500 people and damaged thousands of structures.
NASA has decided to get prepared.
On September 26th, after 10 months in space, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) successfully hit its first target, changing the course of an asteroid in space. This was the agency’s first attempt to do so.
Mission control reported the successful impact at 7:14 p.m., EDT.
DART’s impact on the asteroid, Dimorphos, therefore successfully demonstrated a viable technique to protect the planet from Earth bound asteroids or comets.
Dimorphos was just 530 feet in diameter and was orbiting a larger asteroid, Didymos, over 7 million miles away. Neither asteroid was a threat.
However, the test showed that DART could successfully defend our planet as well as providing a “mission of unity with a real benefit for all humanity” according to NASA’s Bill Nelson.
The team can now observe and confirm how the asteroid’s orbit has changed. The expect a 1% change in its orbit. Precise measurements are an important factor for this test. While that number seems very small, it can have a huge impact given the distances involved.
The spacecraft’s sole instrument was dubbed DRACO. This was used to guide it to the right asteroid, where it crashed at about 14,000 miles per hour, slowing the asteroid’s speed. Seconds before impact, final images were sent by DRACO that provided surface level details of Dimorphos.
To see these images, follow this link.
The Italian Space Agency worked with NASA to capture images of the impact from space.
NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer, Lindley Johnson, said that his shows we are no longer defenseless against this type of natural disaster.