NASA is rehearsing the scenario of “Armageddon” – a real asteroid crash

However, if a real danger arises from space – however improbable it may seem based on the current state of knowledge – the human race is still relatively helpless and has no chance. Especially if the approached object is of a certain size.

The danger of an asteroid hitting Earth is very real. (Source: solarseven / Getty Images)

What is the magnitude of the impact of a dangerous celestial body?

up to one diameter 50 meters Most celestial bodies in our atmosphere burn up and are relatively harmless. be ready Several hundred meters However, a massif of rock can crater a kilometer wide and destroy entire areas if it collides with it. This asteroid A few kilometers in size It can destroy entire countries as a result of the impact and lead to drastic climate changes all over the world due to the flying dust particles. Anything larger than this size would pose an existential threat to the survival of all life on Earth in the event of a collision.

For decades, scientists have been interested in the question of how to effectively predict and respond to potential threats from space. NASA is constantly working through such scenarios. A specific project is the “Dual Asteroid Redirection Test” (“DART”), which has a cost of approximately US$330 million.

Dart launch
Dart launch into space: On November 23, 2021, a SpaceX rocket launched the satellite into space. (credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The Dart mission is the world’s first test of planetary defense against dangerous flying objects from space. Simply put, a collision of a previously programmed satellite with a flying asteroid should alter its course in such a way that a collision with Earth can be ruled out.

Dimorphos collision target

During the night Monday through Tuesday, the mission reaches its target: At about 1:14 a.m. CST, the satellite is expected to collide with the asteroid Demorphos.

This is part of the asteroid system Didymos (in Greek “twin”), located 11 million km from Earth and consisting of two celestial bodies, Demorphos and Didymos. These are not on a collision course with Earth, but due to their physical properties, they offer researchers an ideal test scenario to test the effectiveness and effects of “arrows”.

Didymos, the largest asteroid, is 780 meters in diameter and nearly as tall as the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Demorphos, which orbits around its older brother like a kind of moon, is only 160 meters high, and therefore the Cologne Cathedral is approximately the height of it.

The graphic shows how the impact of the satellite will change the course of the Dimorphos. (Source: t-online)

Dimorphos take about 11 hours and 55 minutes to spin. A direct collision with the satellite aims to change its trajectory to such an extent that the orbital period is shortened by a few minutes. And scientists won’t find out if this goal will be achieved immediately after the collision, but only days or weeks later, after extensive telescope observations and trajectory measurements.

One mission and two satellites: “Dart” and “Lycia Cube”

The Dart spacecraft was designed and built by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, USA. When completed, it began a journey of thousands of kilometers to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, where it was launched last November.

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