NASA’s mission to deflect an asteroid begins

NASA launched its first defense mission from California in an attempt to deviate the trajectory of an asteroid. The mission that left on Wednesday should be completed in 10 months when the ship hits its target, then located eleven million kilometers from Earth.

The US space agency’s mission, dubbed DART, took off from Vandenberg base aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 6:21 a.m. GMT (7:21 a.m. Swiss time), according to images broadcast by NASA live.

The target is twofold: first a large asteroid, Didymos, which measures 780 meters in diameter, and, in orbit around it, a moon, Dimorphos, 160 meters in diameter. It is on this moon that the ship, about a hundred times smaller than it, will come to finish its race, projected at a speed of 24,000 km / h.

The impact will project tons and tons of material. But ‘that’s not going to destroy the asteroid. It’s just going to give it a little kick, ‘said Nancy Chabot, from the applied physics lab at Johns Hopkins University, which is leading the mission in partnership with NASA.

Modified orbit

Thus, the orbit of the small asteroid around the big one will be reduced by only ‘about 1%’, she explained. In this way, ‘if one day an asteroid is discovered on a collision course with Earth […] we will have an idea of ​​how much force we will need to make this asteroid miss Earth, ‘said Andy Cheng of Johns Hopkins University.

The orbit around the Sun of Didymos, the large asteroid, will be slightly modified, due to the gravitational relationship with its moon, he added.

Get to know asteroids better

Analyzing the data from this mission will make it possible to study the internal structure of asteroids, within the framework of the European projects PIONEERS (Planetary Instruments based on Optical technologies for an iNnovative European Exploration using Rotational Seismology) and NEO-MAPP (Near-Earth Object Modeling and Payloads for Protection) to which the Observatory contributes.

DART’s experience will also make it possible to better prepare the next mission, Hera, which will carry the GRASS gravimeter, developed by the Observatory with its Spanish industrial partner EMXYS.



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