Do you remember a simpler time? As time before, say, a couple of weeks ago when we weren’t all living in constant mortal fear of being crushed by a giant rock from outer space? Yeah, neither do we. Luckily, NASA and the ESA are on the job of intercepting potentially killer asteroids. The space agencies have partnered on a project known as Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) which they hope will be able to one day knock earthbound asteroids off course, and they’ve selected a test candidate for the project. To save the Earth — or at least prove they could — NASA and ESA will collide a small spacecraft with the binary asteroid Didymos in just… nine years? Don’t they know we’ll all have been killed by giant space rocks by then? Come on, guys, a little sense of urgency, huh?
Didymos is technically two asteroids — a small rock orbiting a much larger one — so it’s perhaps appropriate that the mission will send two probes at the asteroid. One will collide into Didymos’ smaller asteroid while the other records the action from afar. Of course, small is a relative term here, as Didymos’ sidecar asteroid is still 150 meters wide and thus plenty large enough to do some damage if it ever smacked the Earth.
There’s very little chance of that happening, of course, as Didymos’s closest approach to Earth — which comes in 2022 — still gives us a wide berth of some 11 million kilometers. Still, the approach will be close enough to be seen from powerful ground based telescopes here on Earth, giving us a good way to monitor just how adept our first attempt at knocking an asteroid off course is.
NASA and ESA are also accepting proposals from other researchers on work that the collider and monitoring probe — DART and AIM, respectively — should do while they’re so close to Didymos — after all, it would be a shame to spend a decade getting ready to take a shot and not get the most you can out of the project. The team is already hoping that the impact, which will have about the same energy as a piece of space junk colliding with a spacecraft, can teach them more about the nature of these collisions and help develop new ways to defend against them.
There’s no word as of yet if Bruce Willis has signed on to the project, though hopes are high. I mean, come on — four Die Hard sequels and no return to Armageddon? How is that fair?
- Paintballs could also help deflect asteroids one day.
- Maybe we could drop off some miners on the bigger asteroid? I mean, if it’s on our way…
- That Russian meteorite was really something…