Of all the natural catastrophes that can affect life on Earth, it is asteroid impacts that have the potential to end life as we know it.
Just as the dinosaurs found their fate with the help of a large asteroid some 66 million years ago, humanity would be in deep trouble if a similar event were to occur.
Luckily, scientists are making a picture of near-Earth asteroids that could one day get us in trouble.
Finding the asteroids is only the first part of the puzzle, but scientists also have some ideas on how to avoid potential future collisions.
Two new missions launched by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) will test a method to divert asteroids approaching Earth from their course.
NASA’s DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission will take off after November 24 this year, and the spacecraft will reach the Didymos asteroid system, 11 million kilometers from Earth, about a year. later.
There it will collide with the moon of Didymos, a smaller rock orbiting the asteroid.
Is it safe to deflect a near-Earth asteroid as part of a test? According to Professor Alan Fitzsimmons of the Queen’s University Belfast Astrophysics Research Center, yes.
“The clever technique that NASA’s DART team has chosen is to take an asteroid that can pass close to Earth and then point to its moon, because the moon moves around the largest asteroid when it orbits the sun,” he says to Euronews.
“So we will try to move the moon off the asteroid and that will only change the moon’s orbit around the asteroid and hardly affect the large asteroid itself. So it’s completely safe.”
ESA’s mission, Hera, will then monitor how DART affects the motion of the mole. This will inform researchers of the possibility of deflecting larger rocks from their course, if necessary.
Professor Fitzsimmons, who will give a talk on the mission on the occasion of World Asteroid Day (Wednesday 30 June), says it is like a game of “cosmic billiards”.
“When the asteroid is hit with our spacecraft, it moves slightly in the opposite direction. We know this should work, but we don’t know exactly how much the asteroid will move. So this is the purpose of space missions, to measure how much we can move. an asteroid, “he says.
According to Professor Fitzsimmons, it will be humanity’s first planetary defense practice.