With the objective of testing defenses against threats to Earth, NASA, the American space agency (NASA), will start this Monday (26), another phase of the Dart mission (in English: Double Asteroid Redirection Test), which aims to change the trajectory of a celestial body capable of causing problems to the planet in the future.
An aircraft will travel at about six kilometers per second towards the Dimorphos meteor, a small moon of 160 meters in diameter that circles the Solar System and, if all goes well, the impact will modify its orbit.
The result of the collision, scheduled to occur at 20:14 with live broadcast on the agency’s YouTube channel, will be measured by telescopes.
The proximity to Earth allows planetary defense experts to observe and measure the impact of the probe that will hit the asteroid. The choice of date was deliberate, because every 770 days, Didymos, the system where Dimorphos is located, is 11 million kilometers from us.
In 2024, the European Space Agency (ESA) spacecraft Hera will visit the cluster to analyze the collision in more detail. The mission uses elements of kinetic energy and its repeatability will also be evaluated so that it can be established as a solid technique.
NASA’s “target” has no risk of causing an “armageddon” itself. However, about 25,000 space-scale near-planet asteroids are currently known to pose a threat, even with low odds – and this is only 40% of what could be the total number.
According to the agency, the success of the mission is essential for drawing up a strategic plan and also carrying out tests on other celestial bodies. “We are working to add more space rocks to our catalog and, in the meantime, trying to figure out how to ensure none reach Earth,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, a member of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, at the launch of the operation in 2021.
In addition to fighting potential “agents of the apocalypse,” Dart is also focused on developing autonomous technology. On the probe, algorithms have been implemented that allow travel without an operator. In case of success and good results, space exploration would evolve in communication – or the discard of it. Currently, the information sent to the ships by the command takes some time to arrive, which does not allow control in “real time”.
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The impetus to accelerate the development of planetary defenses was boosted by the fall of an asteroid measuring 18 meters in diameter in the city of Chelyabinsk, Russia, which generated a shock wave and caused damage to six municipalities. The explosion injured more than 1600 people and caused damage estimated at US$30 million.
Despite the scare, impacts of this type are common in Earth’s history. Daily, objects fall into the planet’s atmosphere and are burned by its natural protections. The real danger arises when the body measures more than 100 meters in diameter, as these are more likely not to disintegrate and are more difficult to detect. According to NASA, incoming meteors and comets of the type occur once every 20,000 years.
Larger asteroids, such as the one responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs nearly 66 million years ago – approximately 10 kilometers in diameter – are easier to spot in advance. However, the technique tested by the American agency will still not be enough to prevent a global disaster, but local damage.
Source: CNN Brasil