The asteroid that NASA is about to hit poses no threat to Earth, but 60% of the rocks that kill cities go unnoticed

Illustration of DART approaching Dimorphos.NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

NASA is about to crash a spaceship into an asteroid, destroying the probe and pushing the space rock away.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is targeting an asteroid called Dimorphos, which is orbiting a giant asteroid called Didymos. By colliding with it, NASA hopes to push the smaller space rock into a new orbit closer to its parent asteroid. The impact, scheduled for Monday, is a practice to deflect dangerous asteroids from our planet.

Infographic showing the effect of the impact of the DART spacecraft on the orbit of the asteroid Dimorphos

When DART hits Dimorphos, it should push the asteroid into a new orbit closer to Didymos.NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

Dimorphos is 163 meters (535 feet) wide, big enough to destroy a city like New York. That’s not a cause for concern, since it’s not on an Earth-bound trajectory, and DART won’t change its path through the solar system. But that makes it perfect practice for one of the biggest threats in our cosmic neighborhood: city-killing asteroids, reaching 140 meters (460 feet) or more.

However, having a tried and true diversion method won’t help protect Earth from asteroids if no one sees them coming. Experts previously told Insider that it would take NASA five to 10 years to build and launch a custom mission to deflect an incoming asteroid. To date, scientists have only identified 40% of city-killer asteroids orbiting close to Earth, according to NASA estimates. No one knows where the others are, or where they are going.

asteroid dimorphos edited next to the Colosseum in Rome showing that they are the same size

The 160 meter diameter Dimorphos asteroid compared to the Colosseum in Rome.ESA-Scientific Office

“Of course, you can’t use any mitigation techniques unless you know where the asteroids are,” Amy Mainzer, an astronomer at the University of Arizona, told Insider.

In 2005, Congress mandated that NASA catalog 90% of those asteroids larger than 140 meters. Mainzer has been working on a space telescope called the Near-Earth Object (NEO) Surveyor, which is designed to meet that goal.

“This is one of the long list of risks that exist for life on our planet,” said Mainzer. “It’s something we should just cross off our list of concerns. And the way we do it is to look for asteroids, in my opinion.”

However, NEO Surveyor has made slow progress and has just taken another big hit.

In early 2022, the mission received an infusion of $143.2 million to propel it toward launch. But NASA has since rescinded $33 million of that budget for this year, according to Mainzer, and cut the project’s budget by $100 million for 2023. NASA estimates it will delay the telescope by at least two years, so it will launch. in 2028 at the earliest. .

“Obviously we’re disappointed in the budget cuts, because we know it creates a less efficient project. It’s going to make it cost more and take more time,” Mainzer said.

Smaller asteroids are already sneaking up on us

Asteroids have already surprised humans a few times in recent years.

asteroid Russia Chelyabinsk

A house-sized asteroid streaks through the skies over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013.access point

In 2013, an asteroid the size of a house rose in the skies over Chelyabinsk, Russia, and exploded. The blast sent out a shock wave that shattered windows, damaged buildings and injured more than 1,400 people. No one on Earth saw it coming. That same day, a larger asteroid came within 17,000 miles of the planet.

Jim Bridenstine, who served as NASA administrator for the Trump administration, said in 2019 that the agency’s modeling suggested that an event like the Chelyabinsk meteor occurs roughly every 60 years.

But the Chelyabinsk rock was small, about 50 feet across. In 2019, a 427-foot “city killer” space rock flew within 45,000 miles of Earth, and NASA had almost no warning about it either.

people in winter coats gather around a large dark rock wrapped in straps and ropes

People look at what scientists believe to be a piece of the Chelyabinsk meteorite, recovered from Lake Chebarkul near Chelyabinsk, on October 16, 2013.Alexander Firsov/AP Photo

Then, in 2020, a car-sized asteroid passed closer to Earth than any known space rock without crashing. Our planet was lost by about 1,830 miles. Astronomers didn’t know the asteroid existed until about six hours after it whizzed by. No one saw it coming, because it was approaching from the direction of the sun.

Telescopes on the ground can only observe the sky at night, which means that they miss almost everything that flies towards us from the sun. NEO Surveyor, from its position in Earth orbit, could detect such space rocks. Since it would use infrared light, it could also detect asteroids that are too dim for ground-based telescopes.

The asteroid spy telescope suffers more delays

neocam asteroid hunter spaceship discovery nasa jpl caltech

Artist’s concept of the NEO Surveyor space telescope.NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mainzer first floated the idea for an asteroid-hunting space telescope in 2006. NASA refused to accept it as a mission, instead funding other projects. He also submitted proposals in 2010 and 2015, but the agency kept passing.

NEO Surveyor finally became an official NASA mission in 2019. The project then languished in what NASA calls “Phase A,” a stage that focuses on technology design and development. Last year, NEO Surveyor passed a key review and moved into Phase B, allowing Mainzer and his team to begin building prototypes and developing hardware and software.

Congress and President Joe Biden then approved a budget of $143.2 million for the telescope in 2022 (later reduced to $110 million). That’s a significant increase from the $28 million the mission received in 2021, and it allowed the team to make “significant” progress on all elements of the telescope’s design, Mainzer said. But the agency’s 2023 budget proposal allocates only $40 million to the project.

Once in orbit, NEO Surveyor is expected to spend 10 years increasing NASA’s catalog of 40% of city-killing asteroids to 90%. After that, researchers can move on to smaller classes of asteroids, like the one that shocked Chelyabinsk.

“If you do a good exhaustive search, you might find that there are no potentially dangerous objects in the impact path. And that would be great,” Mainzer said. “It’s reasonably easy to find the answer, so we should do it.”

If the DART impact goes as planned on Monday, NASA will be better equipped to deflect any asteroids that NEO Surveyor is headed for Earth and might discover.

September 23, 2022 – This story has been updated to reflect the budget cut for NASA’s Near-Earth Object Surveyor project.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.