A NASA spacecraft has been ordered to crash into an asteroid that may pose a danger to Earth some time in the 21st century. The asteroid is between one and four meters in diameter, yet astronomers say it will pass very close to the planet in 2036.
If the asteroid is indeed a threat, scientists expect the pieces will break apart, and the asteroid will be nothing more than a fizzled fireball. With the aid of computers and computer models, scientists can come up with a probability of the eventual destructibility of the potentially dangerous asteroid.
The collision test will be the most powerful ever conducted of this kind. In this case, the probability of the asteroid passing through Earth’s radiation belt, leading to a destructive attack that could change the course of the planet, is only .1 percent.
NASA requires that all NASA-sponsored testing be done on a planetary surface, and asteroids are the best available surface on which to do the most testing. Besides, there will be plenty of other asteroids that pose a less of a threat.
The asteroid to be hit by the NASA spacecraft, known as Didymos, is a dark, irregular object with a faint blueish hue that was discovered in 2004.
Wasps, which are actually round, are among the smallest asteroids. They have no clear orbital patterns and usually burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere upon entering our atmosphere. If the initial data show that the new NASA-created colliding with Didymos is feasible, NASA engineers will reach the conclusion that the risk of the asteroid’s harming the Earth is 0.1 percent. If they think it’s not feasible, then they will come up with a newer estimate of the probability of the asteroid harming the Earth.
If the probability of the asteroid threatening Earth is 0.1 percent and NASA engineers choose to go ahead with the collision test, the probe will shoot into the asteroid. The particle particle drag (or drag effect) of the spacecraft is about an inch per second, an amount equivalent to a man driving a bicycle at 80 mph over 100 feet of space.
Any pieces of Didymos created by the spacecraft impact will probably never come into contact with Earth, NASA scientists say. However, a small fragment could create as much as a hundred times more damage than the destruction it would have caused if it entered the atmosphere. So even small pieces of the destroyed space rock could cause catastrophic damage and perhaps even global nuclear war if they make it back into Earth’s atmosphere.
To protect Earth from such eventualities, the government will likely create a destructive weapon that will be deployed once the odds of the asteroid threatening Earth’s safety start to rise. The public will be well informed of the approaching danger as well as plans to counter the threat.
The first asteroid will hit the asteroid’s surface on Oct. 1, 2029. A piece will be intercepted each year for five years, until the end of 2031. There will be a physical collision about one month after that, on June 30, 2033. But the asteroid is expected to pass by once every five years until 2036, when it will pass only 21,786,800 miles from Earth.
NASA will make the announcement on Sunday.
The Washington Examiner previously reported that NASA began two years ago to develop an impactor designed to crash into a brown dwarf, a large, distant star, on the night of Feb. 26, 2011. A brown dwarf is a previously burned-out star.
The brown dwarf’s ring of brilliant ionized gas is also an example of what NASA scientists think is a fusion reaction, according to Washington Examiner columnist Tim Kane.
In October 2011, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent a letter to NASA administrator Charles Bolden announcing that NASA was operating under a presidential directive to “launch a bold exploration program, including human spaceflight.”
NASA has explained in the past that in addition to testing the design of a killer spacecraft, scientists also plan to develop software that will detect and determine the composition of the space rock.
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