NASA will launch a spacecraft into an asteroid to knock it off course

Polycount

Posts: 2,934   +588
Staff member
In context: Our planet can be a beautiful place at times, but, someday, a gargantuan asteroid might just decide to put a premature end to our collective fun. Relative to the size of other astral bodies, it wouldn't take much space rock to damage the planet -- even a 150-meter asteroid is big enough to pose a "significant threat" to Earth. That's why NASA has been working on DART: the Double Asteroid Redirection Test.

Since bringing an Asteroid's momentum to a complete stop is unfeasible with our current level of technology, and we've yet to construct a sci-fi energy shield around the entire planet, deflection is the next best option in humanity's arsenal. And deflection is exactly what DART hopes to accomplish.

In essence, DART will use what NASA calls a "kinetic impactor" technique to send a spacecraft into the great void, with the specific intent of achieving a collision with a target asteroid. NASA hopes this will knock potentially-threatening asteroids far enough off course that the Earth is no longer in their trajectory. That's the long-term goal, anyway. In the short term, NASA needs to make sure their technology works: that's where its first proper test comes in.

NASA will launch its DART spacecraft during the wee hours of the morning tomorrow or tonight if you're a night owl like me. The event kicks off at 1:21AM Eastern Time on November 24. The asteroid DART will aim for is known as Didymos, with a primary body measuring a whopping 780 meters across. The smaller body is around 160 meters and will be the target of the demonstration.

DART is launching aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and will take off from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Once DART has successfully parted ways with its carrier rocket, it will travel toward its destination with an expected arrival falling sometime in September 2022.

We should be clear that, according to NASA, Didymos is not a threat to the Earth right now, which is precisely why the organization wants to use it as a glorified test subject. If NASA's calculations are correct, DART's collision with the "moonlet" of Didymos will change the speed of its orbit around the main body by a "fraction of one percent." That equates to an "orbital period" change of several minutes, which should make it observable and measurable by telescopes on Earth.

The ability to observe Didymos' little brother is critical to the success of the mission. NASA will rely on visual cues, such as how often the moonlet dims the light that washes against Didymos, to determine whether or not it has been successfully nudged off course.

It'll be awhile before us ordinary folk get our hands on that data, but this is an exciting time nonetheless and we can't wait to see whether or not DART's mission will be a success. Let's just hope nothing goes wrong with the launch tonight.

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VitalyT

Posts: 6,033   +6,404
In the next news...

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noel24

Posts: 774   +965
In the next news...

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Still safer then knocking some old satelite from low Earth orbit like Russia did few days ago.
Actually, recent Russian involvement in every possible sh*t They can stirr up, from rising natural gas prices, through Polish/Belarus border crisis, up to endangering ISS, is telling Me They planning to invade some neighbouring country. Who could It be?
 

VitalyT

Posts: 6,033   +6,404
They planning to invade some neighbouring country. Who could It be?
Probably Alaska :) Why not, it used to be part of Russia, till *****ic Alexander II sold it to US for dimes in 1867. It is still a sore point to many Russians :)
 

noel24

Posts: 774   +965
Probably Alaska :) Why not, it used to be part of Russia, till *****ic Alexander II sold it to US for dimes in 1867. It is still a sore point to many Russians :)
Nope, Alaska has nukes. If Russian oligarchs, who order Papa Vlad, loves anything, It is Their money and London apartments They can buy with It. They couldn't touch Alaska without losing those.
Besides, Russia has no strenght to touch an area when They have no substantial population representation. Actually, Russia will sooner annect London, Than any other country in The World.
;-)
 

Vulcanproject

Posts: 1,438   +2,569
The problem is indeed right now it is unlikely we'll see something coming in time to do anything about it. Space is big. Few hundred metre diameter objects that could hit with the energy of all nuclear weapons on the planet are relatively very small. We have a lot of telescopes pointed up but not remotely enough to detect all potential threats.

However it is the desire of many scientists to at least begin development of this ability. There has been a sustained campaign in the scientific community. You have to start somewhere.

They point to the fact that we are vulnerable as a species to major impacts. We have evidence it has happened before. We know it has dramatically altered the course of evolution on our planet more than once. While we have only a small sample size, statistics suggest there is a big one with our name on it again. It is an inevitable matter of time. One year, one hundred years, a thousand, ten thousand. It'll happen. So while we now have reached a point where we can realistically try, we must.
 

noel24

Posts: 774   +965
The problem is indeed right now it is unlikely we'll see something coming in time to do anything about it. Space is big. Few hundred metre diameter objects that could hit with the energy of all nuclear weapons on the planet are relatively very small. We have a lot of telescopes pointed up but not remotely enough to detect all potential threats.

However it is the desire of many scientists to at least begin development of this ability. There has been a sustained campaign in the scientific community. You have to start somewhere.

They point to the fact that we are vulnerable as a species to major impacts. We have evidence it has happened before. We know it has dramatically altered the course of evolution on our planet more than once. While we have only a small sample size, statistics suggest there is a big one with our name on it again. It is an inevitable matter of time. One year, one hundred years, a thousand, ten thousand. It'll happen. So while we now have reached a point where we can realistically try, we must.
Yes, but Your first sentence tells about the hole in the concept of shooting It off the skies. We should start from spending money at searching for possible threat. NASA and space exploration has been seriously defunded since the end of Cold War, and searching for the answer "can We shoot It down?" is like looking backward at The problem. Maybe there is some empirical value to This mission, but only If it is followed by more spendings at looking at The sky?
 

QuantumPhysics

Posts: 5,469   +6,266
Still safer then knocking some old satelite from low Earth orbit like Russia did few days ago.
Actually, recent Russian involvement in every possible sh*t They can stirr up, from rising natural gas prices, through Polish/Belarus border crisis, up to endangering ISS, is telling Me They planning to invade some neighbouring country. Who could It be?


Wasn't that the entire plot of the movie GRAVITY?
 

Plutoisaplanet

Posts: 571   +924
The problem is indeed right now it is unlikely we'll see something coming in time to do anything about it. Space is big. Few hundred metre diameter objects that could hit with the energy of all nuclear weapons on the planet are relatively very small. We have a lot of telescopes pointed up but not remotely enough to detect all potential threats.

[…]

While we have only a small sample size, statistics suggest there is a big one with our name on it again. It is an inevitable matter of time. One year, one hundred years, a thousand, ten thousand. It'll happen. So while we now have reached a point where we can realistically try, we must.
It’s a good thing we have a fantastic atmosphere to protect us from the much smaller pieces of space debris out there. And yes, we have a small sample size which actually suggests that a 10,000 year horizon for this to happen is extremely unlikely. It’s most likely tens of millions of years away considering it’s about every 100 million years that an extinction event happens due to a meteor.
 

kiwigraeme

Posts: 665   +507
The main defense vs asteroids is information .
Ie to spot it sooner - a small deflection further out is needed than closer in.
Secondly to makeup of the asteroid - is it a dense with iron?
Its it a loose collection of space rocks ( remember Japanese probe )?
Its it mainly ice ? - heating one side may be enough
 

Vulcanproject

Posts: 1,438   +2,569
Yes, but Your first sentence tells about the hole in the concept of shooting It off the skies. We should start from spending money at searching for possible threat. NASA and space exploration has been seriously defunded since the end of Cold War, and searching for the answer "can We shoot It down?" is like looking backward at The problem. Maybe there is some empirical value to This mission, but only If it is followed by more spendings at looking at The sky?
You could say it is backwards but 100 years ago we had near zero chance for detection at any meaningful distance and zero chance of doing anything about it. Now we have better than zero on both counts. It is an improvement but realistically neither is going to be great for quite some time.

It’s a good thing we have a fantastic atmosphere to protect us from the much smaller pieces of space debris out there. And yes, we have a small sample size which actually suggests that a 10,000 year horizon for this to happen is extremely unlikely. It’s most likely tens of millions of years away considering it’s about every 100 million years that an extinction event happens due to a meteor.

An ELE for us in the sample size of one planet would suggest millions of years. A sample size of one is obviously not exactly a comfort blanket. However this test is being done on an object that is not really on that scale.

Perhaps I should have been clearer when I talked about 'a big one'. I did originally point out even an object as small as a few hundred metres has the potential to cause enormous damage. We know that these are more likely to stumble across the Earth much sooner than something big enough to cause an ELE. They could still flatten a small country, and worse. The baby that hit Tunguska was like a multi megaton level explosion but it probably wasn't any more than 150 metres across, the size of the object this is being attempted on.

It might be nice if we can do something about it near term. For now trying to affect six mile wide objects is clearly beyond us.
 
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Goamist

Posts: 17   +19
"We should be clear that, according to NASA, Didymos is not a threat to the Earth right now" - it's not, but could it be, if poked the wrong way? I trust NASA's math, but, unfortunately, it's not the only thing in play out there. I understand the need to start somewhere, but I also hope they also took the worst-case scenario into account.
 

wiyosaya

Posts: 6,756   +5,198
The problem is indeed right now it is unlikely we'll see something coming in time to do anything about it. Space is big. Few hundred metre diameter objects that could hit with the energy of all nuclear weapons on the planet are relatively very small. We have a lot of telescopes pointed up but not remotely enough to detect all potential threats.

However it is the desire of many scientists to at least begin development of this ability. There has been a sustained campaign in the scientific community. You have to start somewhere.

They point to the fact that we are vulnerable as a species to major impacts. We have evidence it has happened before. We know it has dramatically altered the course of evolution on our planet more than once. While we have only a small sample size, statistics suggest there is a big one with our name on it again. It is an inevitable matter of time. One year, one hundred years, a thousand, ten thousand. It'll happen. So while we now have reached a point where we can realistically try, we must.
Yes, but Your first sentence tells about the hole in the concept of shooting It off the skies. We should start from spending money at searching for possible threat. NASA and space exploration has been seriously defunded since the end of Cold War, and searching for the answer "can We shoot It down?" is like looking backward at The problem. Maybe there is some empirical value to This mission, but only If it is followed by more spendings at looking at The sky?
The project appears to be off-line right now, but the average computer user is able to help find these objects through - https://boinc.berkeley.edu/wiki/Asteroids@home More info - https://www.boincstats.com/forum/10/12634,1

Unlike mining, IMO, any distributed computing project is an excellent use of electricity.