The world’s first full-scale planetary defense test is in motion. The mission is called DARTIt could help save humanity from future catastrophes if scientists can learn from it. Nancy ChabotJohns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, where he is a planetary scientist.
“DART is a NASA mission to demonstrate deflecting an asteroid, moving an asteroid in space by purposely crashing a spacecraft into it,” Chabot said.
She says there aren’t any asteroids that are a threat to Earth in the foreseeable future, but these are the first steps in case humans need to deflect an asteroid in the distant future.
“Definitely want to make sure we don’t go the way of the dinosaurs,” Chabot said.
DART is the Double Asteroid Redirect Test. It’s currently on a 10-month mission to strike an asteroid orbiting the sun. It took off Tuesday night from California.
“There’s Didymos, it’s about 780 meters or half a mile, and there’s Dimorphos, which is a little moon and it goes around it every 11 hours 55 minutes like clockwork and DART is going to come in really fast at fifteen thousand miles per hour, and it’s going to slam into an Dimorphos that little moon,” Chabot said. “And it’s going to just deflect slightly how the moon goes around that larger asteroid by about one percent.”
Chabot says the spacecraft is about 100 times smaller than the little moon – like a golf cart hitting something the size of a sports stadium— just enough to change its course. Jay McMahonHe is a professor in Smead Aerospace Engineering Sciences Department, University of Colorado Boulder. He’s a participating scientist in the mission
“Our job is to model how that orbit will change and evolve over the coming years after the DART mission,” McMahon said.
McMahon said he and his graduate students will be evaluating the impact of the crash.
“If we had to push an asteroids to move it away from Earth, we wouldn’t want to do it in a way that it would come back later.” He said that we would want to push it and ensure it continues moving away.
There’s still a lot to learn about the movement of asteroids.
“They’re smaller and so different dynamics happen and they can kind of drift around being pushed around by interactions with the planets or actually interactions with sunlight can heat them up and cause them to move around,” McMahon said. “And so that over time, that can push them so that they would drift across the Earth’s orbit.”
And if that does happen, we’ll have the innovative technology to save the planet.
“Lots of people have brought up the movies like Deep Impact or Armageddon, you know, where we’re trying to defend the Earth from an asteroid,” McMahon said. “And I mean, this mission is really about trying to achieve that realistically. It’s also testing new technologies, which is really exciting from an engineering perspective. And then from a science perspective, you know, getting to go see a binary asteroid up close to something that we haven’t done.”