While the Earth is not in immediate danger, NASA aims to test "planetary defense" by crashing a spacecraft speeding at 15,000 mph (24,000 kph) with an asteroid next year.

Asteroid
(Photo : MasterTux on Pixabay)

The purpose of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is to see if this is an efficient approach to deflect an asteroid's route if one ever threatens the Earth.

In a briefing for media on Thursday, NASA gave details on the DART project, which costs $330 million.

"Although there isn't presently a known asteroid on a collision course with the Earth, we do know that there is a vast population of near-Earth asteroids out there," said NASA's Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson.

"Finding them far before they become an impact threat is a key to planetary defense," Johnson added. "We don't want to find ourselves in a scenario where an asteroid is heading straight for Earth, and we have to put this skill to the test."

Launching DART

Asteroid belt landscape
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)

The DART satellite will be launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 10:20 p.m. Pacific time on November 23.

If the launch occurs at or near that time, the asteroid will collide with Earth between September 26 and October 1 next year, at a distance of 6.8 million miles.

Related Article: "Giant Space Object Incoming" But, is it Really? (Debunking Alarmist News Headlines)

Dimorphos Asteroids

Dimorphos, which means "two forms," is a 525-foot-diameter asteroid that circles a bigger asteroid named Didymos, which means "twin" in Greek.

While neither asteroid poses a threat to Earth, Johnson believes they are good candidates for the test since they can be observed using ground-based telescopes.

Images will also be collected by an Italian Space Agency-contributed small camera-equipped satellite that the DART mission will release ten days before impact.

Dimorphos completes an orbit around Didymos every 11 hours and 55 minutes, according to Nancy Chabot of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which created the DART mission.

The DART probe, which will weigh 1,210 pounds when it collides with the asteroid, will not "destroy" it, according to Chabot.

"It'll simply give it a little shove," she explained. "It'll divert its course around the bigger asteroid."

"It'll just be a 1% alteration in that orbital period," Chabot said, "so what was 11 hours and 55 minutes previously may be 11 hours and 45 minutes."

Learning How to Deflect Asteroids

The test is intended to assist scientists in figuring out how much momentum is required to deflect an asteroid if one ever approaches Earth.

"We want to get as close to head-on as possible to generate the most deflection," Chabot explained.

Dimorphos' composition will influence the degree of deflection, and scientists are unsure how porous the asteroid is.

According to Chabot, Dimorphos is the most frequent form of an asteroid in space and is 4.5 billion years old.

She described it as "regular chondrite meteorites." "It's a fine grain combination of rock and metal."

More than 27,000 near-Earth asteroids have been recorded, according to Johnson, NASA's Planetary Defense Officer, although none presently pose a threat to the planet.

Preparing for Bennu

Bennu's Particles
(Photo : NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin)

In 2135, an asteroid named Bennu, which is 1,650 feet large and was found in 1999, will pass near half the distance between the Earth and the Moon. However, the likelihood of a collision is deemed very low.

Also Read: How Ancient Asteroids and Comets Helped Alter Early Earth's Oxygen Levels

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