Latest Breaking News & Hot Updates Around USA OR All Over World

NASA space boffins hit an asteroid 7 million miles from Earth last night, 15,000 mph

0 2

With the war in Ukraine, the rising cost of living, and minor disagreements already bubbling up. Strictly speaking, there’s plenty to worry about right now.

But as we all know, if it’s not one, it’s the other, and so now we’re suddenly inundated with stories of asteroid disasters.

An asteroid crashing into Earth? Forget the economy. We would be blotted out. Go up in smoke. Lost forever with the poor old dinosaurs. We’ve all seen the disaster movies about the end of the world. Even a small asteroid can wipe out an entire country.

That’s why exactly at 12:14 this morning, while most of us were in bed, an extraordinary drama unfolded seven million miles away in space. The world’s first planetary defense test mission. An extraordinary galactic space battle.

On one side was the Double Asteroid Redirection Test of Dart – a £300 million probe that is 19 meters long and weighs half a ton.

On the other side stood Dimorphos. A bulky asteroid (a mass of space rock, as opposed to a comet, which is a mixture of ice, rock and gas), measures 163 m (530 ft) wide and currently orbits a much larger asteroid, Didymos (780 m or 780 m). 2560 ft). ), once every 11 hours and 55 minutes.

The big moment — the culmination of an epic mission that began last November when it lifted off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from a California air force base — was scheduled for just after midnight.

The Dart — steered for the last leg of its journey by software and thrusters, and powered by large solar panels — would collide almost head-on at its target at about 25,000 miles per hour.

The impact would completely destroy the probe and, fingers crossed, push Dimorphos off course enough to solidify its orbit around Didymos to once every 11 hours and 45 minutes.

In the meantime, a LICIACube – a specialized Italian camera released by the probe a few days ago – would record the moment of “deep impact” from 50 miles back and send the images back to Earth. At least that was the plan.

Or, as Professor Alan Fitzsimmons, an astronomer and member of the NASA Dart research team at Queen’s University Belfast, put it: ‘It’s a very complicated cosmic billiards game. What we want to do is use as much energy as possible [as we can] van Dart to move the asteroid.”

If you’re reading this, it will either have worked, and Dimorphos will have diverted, changed course forever, and the Dart turned to dust.

Or it won’t. The Dart will be well know where and the Dimorphos will spin merrily in its original orbit.

NASA's DART successfully hit the Dimorphos asteroid on Monday at 7:14 p.m. ET.  This is the first planetary defense test and can be used to save the earth

NASA’s DART successfully hit the Dimorphos asteroid on Monday at 7:14 p.m. ET. This is the first planetary defense test and can be used to save the earth

But before you freak out, grab hold of your loved ones and channel your best Bruce Willis in the 1998 asteroid disaster movie Armageddon, take a deep breath.

Because Dimorphos was one big rock that would never touch the Earth. Not around. It never put us in any danger. This was all just a very expensive experiment to see if devastating asteroids can be pushed off course if they come straight at us. But a very important experiment.

There are plenty of asteroids that could hit us, meaning experts generally talk in terms of when, rather than if.

Though scientists have identified more than 95 percent of the monsters that would wipe us all out, many smaller ones are still roaring around — barely a third of the 28,000 asteroids at least 140 m (460 ft) in diameter have spotted.

(It doesn’t help that the smaller the asteroid is, the more dim it shines and the harder it is to see until it’s closer to Earth.)

Even the smallest of these are probably big enough to knock out Belgium, Wales or London. And the relatively small Dimorphos could easily create a crater more than a mile wide, 200 m (650 ft) deep and wreak massive damage for miles.

That all sounds pretty grim.

However, unlike earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis, the advantage here is that we are informed well in advance of the asteroids coming at us at 20 miles per second.

Thanks to the epic distances they travel, we have years, decades, or even centuries of knowledge of an imminent strike.

“Hollywood and movies, they have to make it exciting,” said Dr. Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defense officer, last week. “You know, they don’t find the asteroid until 18 days before it hits and everyone is running around like they’re on fire.”

Not that there hasn’t been enough real-life drama on the asteroid front. It was in the 1980s when scientists realized that an asteroid had been responsible for the 112-mile-wide Chicxulub crater off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, which subsequently killed all non-avian dinosaurs.

And over the millennia, we’ve been pretty battered by flying debris, with nearly 200 impact craters discovered around the world as evidence.

The Tunguska event of 1908 was the last time Earth was hit by a large meteor – 76 m (250 ft) wide. Miraculously, it landed in Siberia, where it destroyed 80 million trees and killed an awful lot of reindeer, but avoided civilization. A few hours later and it would have wiped out St Petersburg.

In 1999, a 130 m (427 ft) asteroid — big enough to obliterate a city — came within just 45,000 miles of Earth — barely one-fifth the distance to the moon, way too close for comfort. . And just two years ago, an asteroid known as 1998 OR2, the size of a mountain, shot past just 3.9 million miles away, in what NASA called a “close approach.”

Therefore, scientists around the world are constantly looking for new asteroids. And why the Dart plan is so important.

It won’t be easy. As Tom Statler, mission program scientist at NASA, said at the press conference last week, “Dimorphos is a small asteroid. We’ve never seen it up close, we don’t know what it looks like, we don’t know what the shape is. And that’s just one of the things that leads to Dart’s technical challenges. Hitting an asteroid is difficult.’ If, fingers crossed, this epic plan has worked, it’s not just about pushing the asteroid off course, but learning more about it.

What kind of rock it is, whether it is magnetic enough to be moved by other methods, and how damaged it is from the impact.

The camera will take pictures of the impact as it happens and send pictures back, but scientists will also be able to track what happens with a telescope from Earth and four years later by another satellite, Hera, which will be launched in 2024 by the European Space Agency. .

If this mission is successful, it will be a huge breakthrough. An extraordinary achievement for NASA. A huge step for humanity. And yes, one concern from our huge list of concerns. And you never know, it could even herald the end of asteroid disaster movies at the end of the world.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.