December 5, 2021

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A probe as a cosmic signal to take advantage of an asteroid

A probe as a cosmic signal to take advantage of an asteroid

Epidemics, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, wars and climate change. There are many disasters that can befall us as human beings. But nothing is as devastating as a giant asteroid hitting Earth.

65 million years ago, the dinosaurs became extinct when this happened. The chance is zero in the short term, but such a collision will happen again. So we are better preparing for it and trying to prevent it, according to the space organizations.

NASA will launch a craft into a twin asteroid tomorrow morning for a unique test. Can we change the orbit of a celestial body by pointing a probe at it at high speed, as a cosmic signal? The DART mission should answer the question of whether this is a realistic way to save us from an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.

Collision of 22,000 kilometers per hour

DART stands for Double Asteroid Redirect Test. The mission goes to a double asteroid. Around Didymus – 780 meters in diameter – orbits the moon Demorphos – 160 meters in diameter. The NASA probe will arrive there at the end of September next year, when the asteroids will be 11 million kilometers from Earth. Hence, the intent collides with the Demorphos vehicle at a speed of 22,000 kilometers per hour.

A double asteroid was deliberately chosen, says astronomer Lucas Ellerbrück: “It is easier to make a change in the orbit of a small asteroid around a large asteroid than in the orbit of an asteroid around the Sun.” An Italian Space Agency satellite and an ESA probe are taking pictures and measuring the impact.

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When changing a job, we should not imagine too much. “It’s like shooting a basketball,” Ellerbrook said. If the mission is successful, NASA says, the orbit will move by a fraction of a percent. “But a small change in orbit can make a big difference, if you do it early enough. The faster you hit an asteroid, the smaller the thrust should be.”

A small batch can make a big difference: