The first ever planetary defense mission has started. NASA wants to change the asteroid’s orbit

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Are we ready for an asteroid strike?

Exactly two seconds after 22:21 local time (Wednesday 7:21 Polish time), the Falcon 9 carrier rocket launched from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in southern California. for the first time in history, it will intentionally collide with an asteroid.

This is the start of the DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission. The first-ever planetary defense mission to see if in the future NASA will be able to protect the Earth from the deadly effects of an asteroid collision.

NASA takes off with the DART mission

After 55 seconds from take-off, the Falcon 9 rocket had reached the speed of sound, and after 2 minutes and 38 seconds, the first stage of the rocket (the so-called booster) detached from the second stage, which continued to launch the DART ship into space. 6.5 minutes later the booster landed on the “Of Course I Still Love You” barge in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. It was the third successful landing for this specimen.

NASA DART mission launchNASA DART mission launch photo: screenshot from NASA broadcast on YouTube

More about the DART mission can be found on the home page

After take-off, NASA and SpaceX started the second stage engine twice, and 55 minutes and 48 seconds after take-off, the DART probe and the second stage rocket separated. After an hour and 9 minutes, NASA scientists managed to get a direct connection to the ship. Now he begins his lonely journey towards the Didymos asteroid system (more about it in a moment).

The ship now has several billion kilometers to travel. Over the next months, it will “chase” the asteroids Didymos and Dimorphos in its orbit around the Sun. It will catch up with them in September 2022, when the asteroids are relatively close to Earth. The asteroid should probably hit on September 24.

NASA will cause a space catastrophe. On Dimorphos

Didymos and Dimorphos are two small asteroids that orbit a common center of mass together as they orbit the Sun on a near collision course with our planet. They are classified as near-Earth asteroids and potentially dangerous asteroids. Didymos is larger (780 meters in diameter) and the smaller Dimorphos (170 meters in diameter) is its moon.

NASA plans to hit the smaller of the asteroids. The DART spacecraft weighing approx. 670 kg will be directed to a collision course with a cosmic rock and will hit its surface at a speed of 6.6 km / s, i.e. less than 24 thousand. km / h. This should have a minimal effect on the velocity of Dimorphos orbiting the common center of mass with the asteroid Didymos.

DART mission - hitting an asteroidDART mission – hitting an asteroid photo: screenshot from NASA’s YouTube video

Scientists estimate the reduction in speed at about 1/5 of a millimeter per second. Dimorphos should move around its companion much slower (at a speed of several km / s) after the collision. This is an insanely small change, but as NASA points out, even small changes in space have big effects.

A blow over time will affect the orbit of the asteroid, which will become more and more different from the original one over time. According to the researchers, the difference will probably be noticeable after a few months. Scientists will measure this very precisely with the help of ground-based telescopes, observing the transits of the smaller asteroid (against the background of the larger one). By comparing the observations with the pre-impact data, they will calculate the impact of the mission on the orbit of the object.

We will have an “eye” in space

The impact itself will also be recorded by the DRACO (Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical Navigation) camera – the only research instrument of the DART ship. In addition, a 14-kilogram miniature LICIACube satellite created by researchers from the Italian Space Agency will be placed in a spring cassette inside the ship.

10 days before the impact, LICIACube will separate from the DART ship and observe the impact from a safe distance, and transmit the collected data directly to Earth. It is to record photos of the impact, the dust plume from the collision, and the crater on the asteroid’s surface.

Artistic vision of the Didymos asteroid and its moon DimorphosArtistic vision of the Didymos asteroid and its moon Dimorphos photo: screenshot from NASA’s YouTube video

DART is a general, real-world test to see if we are actually able to affect the orbit of the asteroid. NASA (and other space agencies as well) hopes that in the future people will be able to “push” asteroids into collision courses with Earth.

Experts emphasize that currently we do not know any object that directly threatens the Earth. In history, however, our planet has already been struck by many asteroids that have significantly influenced life on Earth. It is possible that sooner or later another one will emerge from outer space.

About Alex Marcell

He likes dogs, pizza and popcorn. Already a fanboy of Nintendo and Sony, but today throws anything. He has collaborated on sites and magazines such as GameBlast, Nintendo World, Hero and Portal Pop, but today is dedicated exclusively to Spark Chronicles.

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