Tonight, NASA conducts a mission that blends science and science fiction to save the planet.
After a 10-month journey across the solar system, a spaceship will deliberately crash with an asteroid. It’s a trial run for a far distant genuine danger.
If you exclude Hollywood, NASA launched DART, the planet’s first planetary defense mission, back in November. Our world is in grave danger in the 1998 science fiction movie “Armageddon,” which depicts it as the target of a Texas-sized asteroid. The only defender of Earth? Robert Willis
The role of the actual Bruce Willis, Lindley Johnson, a NASA planetary defense officer, is locating asteroids in our solar system before they find us.
Up to this point, more than 27,000 near-Earth asteroids have been found. There are around 10,000 of them that seem big enough to harm Earth if it were hit.
How susceptible is the Earth right now to one of these things, wondered reporter Mark Strassmann?
There is presently nothing that can stop it from a massive item, Johnson said.
The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), a spacecraft built to intentionally collide with an asteroid, is the next step.
The DART coordination team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Laurel, Maryland is led by planetary scientist Nancy Chabot. She presented Strassmann the test target for tonight: a safe double-asteroid that is about seven million miles distant. She predicted that the DART spacecraft would almost collide with it when it approached at a speed of 15,000 miles per hour.
The Italian Space Agency’s fly-by LICIACube satellite will observe the impact with a partner spacecraft.
That collision may lower this smaller asteroid’s orbit by 1%, just enough to prevent a potential hazard from hitting Earth.
According to Chabot, the little movement “changes its location over time, preventing the Earth and the asteroid from being on a collision track in the future.”
It’s fortunate that no large known asteroids will pose a danger to Earth for at least the next 100 years since this will allow DART to be tested.