The mission is to explode the spacecraft at subatomic speeds when it encounters asteroid 2004-FT31, a space rock believed to be a mixture of iron and nickel. The asteroid is located about 180 million miles from Earth, passing quickly through Earth’s orbit, but there is a chance of it actually striking in a few million years.
When NASA announced that it had secured an asteroid pass earlier this year, it was expected to blast a probe containing a balloon filled with CO2 gas against the surface of the rock, sending the resulting vapor into space. That burst would protect Earth from some of the effects of any future asteroid impact, which could include freezing water, heavy vapor or boulders raining down on civilization.
Planners received additional advice at the 12th annual International Asteroid Deflection Assessment and Planning Conference (DAPPS), held in November at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Participants analyzed the asteroid’s impact probabilities and details of the plan outlined in the program. After the dust settled, a clear consensus emerged: it was unlikely that they would hit with enough force to wipe out humanity. But they should still be warned of any threat of strike.
A roundabout way to approach the asteroid is expected to take place next September, when the asteroid will be placed in its flyby path, following a trajectory from which it is expected to emerge in August 2022. It will reach Earth in mid-December 2022, where a NASA spacecraft will blast off and chase it down with its own balloon filled with CO2 gas. The explosion that would send the gas into space has been designed to slow down the rock and eventually enter its orbit.
NASA scientists will monitor the spacecraft’s arrival. If they have an idea it might not meet expectations, the next best option is to deflate the balloon and miss the asteroid altogether.
Even though the most likely hits are likely to blow up with only a fraction of the energy necessary to kill tens of millions, it’s still not all doom and gloom. If NASA has been alerted of an asteroid’s threat, then it is capable of deflecting it, and scientists have already demonstrated that they are capable of this. The earth was not hit by an asteroid 500-tons in diameter when an asteroid collided with Earth in 1908.
Bryan Davis, a robotic arm manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement that the asteroid will contain the same type of rock found on Earth. “We could form a collider and see a meteor impact somewhere on this rock,” he added.
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