‘Planetary defense’: NASA targets asteroid in space collision | Space News

After NASA intentionally smashes a car-sized spacecraft into an asteroid next week, the European Space Agency’s Hera mission will investigate the “crime scene” and uncover the secrets of the rocks. this potentially destructive space.

NASA’s Dual Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) aims to collide with lunar asteroid Dimorphos on Monday night, hoping to slightly alter its orbit – a first for an operation such is done.

While Dimorphos is 11 million kilometers (6.8 million miles) away and poses no threat to Earth, the mission is a test run in case the world needs to one day derail. an asteroid heading our way.

Astronomers around the world will be monitoring the impact of DART, and its impact will be closely watched to see if the mission passes the test.

The European Space Agency’s Hera mission, named after the ancient Greek queen of the gods, will follow in its footsteps.

The Hera spacecraft, scheduled to launch in October 2024, aims to reach Dimorphos in 2026 to measure the exact impact that DART has had on the asteroid.

Scientists are not only excited to see the crater of DART, but also want to explore a very out-of-this-world object.

‘A New World’

Dimorphos, orbiting an asteroid larger than Didymos as they hurl together through space, not only offers “the perfect test opportunity for a planetary defense experiment, but it also represents a whole new environment.” ,” said Hera Mission Director, Ian Carnelli.

Hera will be equipped with cameras, spectrometers, radar and even a toaster-sized nanosatellite to measure the asteroid’s shape, mass, chemical composition and more.

NASA’s Bhavya Lal said it is extremely important to understand the size and composition of such asteroids.

She told the International Astronautical Congress in Paris this week: “If an asteroid is made up of loose gravel, the approach to breaking it up might be different than if it were metal or some other kind of rock. other stone.

Hera mission principal investigator Patrick Michel said little is known about Dimorphos that scientists will discover “a new world” at the same time as the public on Monday.

“Asteroids aren’t boring space rocks – they’re super interesting because they have a great variety” in size, shape and composition, says Michel.

Because they have low gravity relative to Earth, matter there may behave completely differently than expected. “Unless you touch the surface, you can’t tell the mechanical response,” he said.

‘Behaves almost like a liquid’

For example, when a Japanese probe dropped a small explosive near the surface of asteroid Ryugu in 2019, it was predicted to create a crater two to three meters long. Instead, it blew up a 50-meter-long crater.

“There was no resistance,” Michel said. “The surface acts almost like a liquid [rather than solid rock]. How strange is that? “

One way the Hera mission will test Dimorphos is by landing a nanosatellite on its surface, in part to see how much it bounces.

Binary systems such as Dimorphos and Didymos represent about 15% of known, but still undiscovered, asteroids.

With a diameter of just 160 meters – about the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza – Dimorphos will also be the smallest asteroid ever studied.

Michel says that learning about the effects of DART is not only important for protecting the planet, but also for understanding the history of our solar system, where most cosmic bodies were formed through collisions and is now riddled with craters.

That’s where DART and Hera can shine a light not only on the future but also on the past.

This computer-generated image shows the impact of a DART projectile on the Didymos . double asteroid system [European Space Agency via AFP]

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