NASA launches rocket on a collision course for an asteroid
The goal of the mission is to demonstrate that an asteroid can be diverted off course by crashing a spacecraft into it.
VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. (KLKN) – At 12:21 AM CT on Wednesday, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. This rocket has one sole purpose – to intentionally collide into an asteroid.
This is part of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test, otherwise known as DART. According to NASA, DART “is the world’s first full-scale planetary defense test.” The goal of the mission is to demonstrate that an asteroid can be diverted off course by crashing a spacecraft into it. Scientists refer to this method as “kinetic impact deflection.”
By giving the asteroid a little shove off course, a significant change in the long-term track of the asteroid occurs. If successful, such an impact via spacecraft may be an option in preventing a catastrophic collision with an asteroid on Earth. A mission like this requires a lot of precision.
Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Lauren, MD built the DART spacecraft, which will weigh nearly 1,210 pounds upon impact. The estimated impact date is between September 26th and October 1st of 2022. The impact will occur roughly 6.8 million miles away from Earth.
Why is such a mission important? By tracking and predicting potential collisions of near-Earth objects well in advance, scientists may be able to take action through methods like kinetic impact deflection to prevent a disaster.
According to astronomers, there are nearly 25,000 asteroids near Earth which are close to 500 feet in size. That is big enough to cause destruction over regional areas. However, a collision of an asteroid of that size occurs around once every 20,000 years – not often. Most asteroids are smaller and have little ramifications, and that is if they’re even able to intercept Earth.
While an asteroid approaching Earth isn’t likely something major to be concerned about in this lifetime, know that scientists are actively working to beef up our space defense systems should we discover a new asteroid heading towards Earth.