The Earth is in constant danger of a cataclysmic event, with the existence of an estimated 1,000 near-Earth asteroids capable of causing devastation on a "continental" scale. And NASA, charged with protecting the planet from such an apocalyptic asteroid attack, believes it has found a bold solution. The US space agency is preparing its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), an ambitious plan that launches a spacecraft against an asteroid at 13,500 mph to redirect it from Earth, revealed the mission's Scientific Project exclusively.
Experts estimate that the impact of an object the size of one that exploded in Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 (approximately 55 feet (17 meters) in size) occurs once or twice per century.
It is expected that the impacts of larger objects, such as the KT impact extinction event, will be much less frequent, on a scale of centuries to millennia.
It is believed that this mass extinction event eliminated the dinosaurs by unleashing a mini ice age.
However, given the current incomplete state of the Near Earth Object (NEO) catalog, an unforeseen impact, such as the Chelyabinsk event, could occur at any time.
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And it is this ever present and unpredictable danger that has led NASA to try the new planetary defense system.
Dr. Nancy Chabot, coordinating leader of DART, told express.co.uk: "The possible damage of an asteroid depends to a large extent on the size of the asteroid.
"The DART mission is demonstrating technology that could be used in a planetary defense kinetic impactor mission, which is designed to be most effective for asteroids in the size range of approximately 100-500 meters in diameter.
"If an asteroid of this size hits the Earth, it would cause a large-scale regional devastation."
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The DART spacecraft will be launched in 2021 and will impact the smallest asteroid of the binary asteroid of the Didymos system in October 2022.
Currently, the smaller Didymos asteroid (160 m in diameter) orbits the asyroid Didymos lager (780 m in diameter) every 11.92 hours.
Dr. Chabot said: "The craft will impact at 13,500 mph (6 km per second), and the predictions are that the 11.92-h orbit will change from about 5 to 10 minutes due to the impact.
"This change in the orbit can be measured from the telescopes on Earth.
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"Given that DART is the first test of the kinetic impact technology applied to an objective that resembles the type of asteroid for which it would be used, the results of that test will teach us a lot and will prepare us better for the next steps in any approach. of planetary defense.
"DART is a highly cost-effective way to test this technology because it intelligently uses a binary asteroid system, which allows telescopes on Earth to evaluate the effect of impact.
"This is a very cost-effective approach to doing this test."
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