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NASA is organizing a boxing match set among the stars.
In case an asteroid one day threatens Earth’s existence, NASA has developed a contingency plan: Punch that asteroid with a spaceship. The plan is already well into its demo phase.
“Up until now, we haven’t had too many options for what we might do if we found something that was incoming,” Johns Hopkins planetary astronomer Andy Rivkin told Vice News of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission. “DART is the first test of how we might be able to deflect something without having to resort to a nuclear package, or sitting in our basements, waiting it out and crossing our fingers.”
The planetary defense mission is set for its first launch this summer, and it is anticipated to make impact in late 2022. Its target is the smaller of two space rocks — a moon named Dimorphos — which are circling each other in the asteroid system Didymos, Vice reported. Based on how successful DART is in knocking Dimorphos away from the other space rock, they will gauge how realistic their plan to potentially one day save Earth this way is.
One major concern is that DART — which will be making impact at approximately four miles a second — will punch the moon in a way that breaks off chunks of it, thus creating more — albeit smaller — threats to humanity.
The Italian Space Agency is collaborating on the asteroid-spaceship brawl, supplying a relatively small satellite by which to observe “the mess we make,” as Rivkin put it. Earthbound humans will also be watching by way of very powerful telescopes.
If the mission is a success, DART will alter the trajectory of Dimorphos in a move that can be replicated in the future, should Earth be under planetary threat.
The mission may sound insane because it is: The possibility that an asteroid will threaten life as humans know it is extremely unlikely, Rivkin told Vice. Mostly, scientists are just really curious about what’s going to happen.
“If asteroids are to keep you awake at night, let it be with excitement about how cool they are, and not concern,” Rivkin said.
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