NASA To Slam Probe Into Asteroid for Planetary Defense Test

On Sept. 26, NASA will slam a probe into an asteroid during its Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission. The mission is part of NASA’s larger planetary defense plan against any asteroids that may someday impact the Earth.

If an asteroid were to hurl toward Earth in the future, a probe like the one used in DART should be able to realign its trajectory or destroy it, neutralizing its threat.

One of the engineers orchestrating the mission acknowledges, “this is an amazing moment for our space program.”

“For the first time, we will move a celestial body intentionally in space, beyond Earth’s orbit! This test goes beyond international borders and really shows what we can accomplish if we all work together as one team and as one on Earth.”

NASA mapped the orbits of 30,000 nearby asteroids and determined that, as of right now, most of them are unlikely to collide with Earth or are so small that they would burn up in the atmosphere before any significant impact.

Embed from Getty Images

The last time an asteroid collided with Earth, it ended the age of dinosaurs some 66 million years ago. The 6-mile wide asteroid Chicxulub killed over 75% of the Earth’s species, triggering a mass extinction event. Earthquakes reverberated throughout the crust; wildfires spread in all directions from the asteroid’s impact, and mammoth tsunamis engulfed dry land.

NASA does not want to rule out that an asteroid may hit Earth in the future. The probe will impact an asteroid named Dimorphos, which orbits another asteroid named Didymos, nearly the Earth’s size. Its mission is to realign Dimorphos and change the duration of its orbit by 11 minutes.

The agency says this will determine if a strategy like DART would successfully prevent planetary threats posed by asteroids by gauging how asteroids respond to kinetic impact. The stakes of the test are low since it poses no threat to Earth, but the agency says the difficulty of the maneuver will remain the same.

Embed from Getty Images

During a news conference, Andrea Riley, a program executive at NASA, spoke on the importance of the DART test. The probe will only be able to detect Dimorphos an hour and a half before impact, making this an accurate test of its precision. Once the probe detects the asteroid, it will autonomously guide itself into a collision.

“If it misses, it still provides a lot of data. This is a test mission. This is why we test; we want to do it now rather than when there is an actual need.”

NASA will hold a televised briefing for the test at 6 p.m. on Sept. 26. NASA TV will then provide live coverage of the impact, predicted to be at 7:14 p.m. EDT the same day.

Asteroids kill dinosaurs

New Study Says an Asteroid, Not Volcanic Activity, Killed the Dinosaurs

For decades, scientists have argued about what caused the global mass extinction event that killed the dinosaurs. While there is general consensus that climate change is to blame, scientists disagree over what event occurred that triggered a rapid transformation of the planet’s weather systems. Though some believe that the environmental impact was caused by massive volcanic eruptions in India, most scientists think that an asteroid impact is to blame. Now, a new research paper published in Science is hoped to end the debate, as the researchers found that the volcanic eruptions occurred too far before the extinction event that took place 66 million years ago to have been its cause.

With this research, the scientists are hoping to put to rest the theory that K-Pg, which is the scientific notation for the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, was caused by volcanic activity. According to Yale assistant professor of geology & geophysics Pincelli Hull, who helped author the research paper, “a lot of people have speculated that volcanoes mattered to K-Pg, and we’re saying, ‘No, they didn’t.’” 


Embed from Getty Images

According to Hill, “volcanic activity in the late Cretaceous caused a gradual global warming event of about two degrees, but not mass extinction.” In other words, although climate change caused by volcanic activity had an impact on the global ecosystem, it was not rapid or dramatic enough of a warming event to cause the extinction of 75% of life on Earth, as is observed in K-Pg. The study also offers an answer to a question that has for years remained a mystery, which is why massive eruptions that took place in India in the immediate aftermath of the extinction event did not cause a corresponding warming event. According to this study, the ocean absorbed an enormous amount of CO2 in the aftermath of the asteroid impact, which may have hid the warming effect of the volcanic activity.

The asteroid impact which is now widely believed to have been the cause of K-Pg was first discovered in 1990, after samples from the Chicxulub crater in Mexico were analyzed by scientists who determined that the crater was caused by an asteroid impact that took place around 66 million years ago, at precisely the same time as the extinction event. Since the discovery of the crater, further research has produced evidence that this in fact was the impact site of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. In 2016, for instance, a drilling project drilled into the impact crater, obtaining rock core samples that seemed to confirm the theory, as materials extracted from the impact site match the geological record across the world that was formed in the wake of the asteroid impact.

Asteroids kill dinosaurs

NASA Teams Up With ESA To Stop Earth Bound Asteroids

Scientist’s are preparing for the worst when it comes to an asteroid hitting the planet. Mass extinction impact asteroids are guaranteed to occur every few million years, which is why they’re not worried about very often. One of the most significant occurrences being when the dinosaur population was completely eradicated, which is what people remember the most.