Crashing a NASA satellite into an asteroid does not threaten Earth

NASA crashes a satellite into an asteroid called Dimorphos. Dimorphos orbits a larger asteroid, so it’s impossible for the satellite to send its target inside us.

UPDATE (09/26/22): NASA has projected the DART satellite, the satellite it’s testing crashing into an asteroid, will hit its target later on September 26th. The target asteroid is orbiting another, larger asteroid, and NASA does not hit the target asteroid with a large enough satellite to knock it out of orbit. The original story, explaining why the target asteroid was chosen by NASA and why the test poses no risk to Earth, continues below as originally published.

On November 23, NASA launched the satellite for its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), a mission in which NASA tests its ability to protect Earth from dangerous asteroids by crashing a satellite into an asteroid to redirect its orbit.

The asteroid they use for this test is one that is not expected to come anywhere near Earth. but some viewers have feared that this test could inadvertently divert the asteroid’s path into Earth.

THE QUESTION

Does a NASA test to divert an asteroid pose a risk to Earth?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

That's wrong.

No, this test poses no risk to Earth. NASA’s test takes place on an asteroid orbiting another larger asteroid, and the satellite NASA uses to test this is incapable of the Knock target asteroids out of orbit of the larger asteroid.

WHAT WE FOUND

DART is a satellite developed as a planetary defense test of technologies that could prevent a dangerous asteroid from hitting Earth. Says NASA. NASA’s goal on the mission is to crash its satellite into the asteroid to cause a measurable change in its motion. DART should hit the asteroid in late September or early October 2022.

“We’re just trying to manipulate the motion of the asteroid so that we can measure it with telescopes on Earth to get a basic ground truth for our theoretical model,” said Dr. Tom Statler, program scientist for the DART mission. “And understand how we might use that in practice if we ever get into a situation where we need to use it on a real asteroid that’s dangerous.”

The mission will not only help them figure out how much an impact would change an asteroid’s motion, but should also give scientists a better idea of ​​where in an asteroid’s orbit is the best place to hit it, both in terms of the impact as well as in terms of where it might be most easily accessible from Earth, Statler said.

NASA says its target asteroid poses no threat to Earth, and everyone involved in the mission is confident it will pose no threat even after impact. According to Statler, there are several reasons why the test poses no risk to Earth.

“Even at the tremendous speed at which DART will impact the asteroid, it’s only the mass of a cow,” Statler said. “Compared to the mass of an asteroid, DART is simply not large enough to alter the asteroid’s orbit sufficiently to become a threat to Earth.” It’s just not going to happen.”

The asteroid targeted by DART is the smaller asteroid called Dimorphos in a two-asteroid system Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), which is working with NASA on the test. Dimorphos orbits the larger asteroid called Didymos, which in turn orbits the Sun.

“Even if DART gave Dimorphos a bigger boost than expected, it’s still in orbit around Didymos,” Statler said.

This also gives NASA something to measure; According to APL, the DART impact should shave several minutes off the time it takes for Dimorphos to orbit Didymos.

Scientists have a good understanding of how asteroid orbits work. “It takes a certain amount of observation of data to figure out what that orbit is,” Statler explained. “But once we got it, we pretty much nailed it. And we know where it is.”

NASA says no known asteroid the same size as or larger than Dimorphos has a significant chance of hitting Earth in the next 100 years. However, according to NASA, only about 40% of such asteroids have been found.

“You can’t deflect the asteroid unless you know it’s there,” Statler said. “So the most important thing we do in planetary defense is still to look for asteroids, find asteroids, track them, determine their orbits and predict what they will do in the future. And we’re definitely not done with that.”

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Laura Coffey

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