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NASA will launch spacecraft to ‘hit’ the asteroid, stopping future impacts

If an asteroid hits Earth, what can we possibly do to prevent it from affecting the planet?

According to NASA: Punch it.

Stopping an asteroid effect is something that has been thrown around in both serious scientific discussions and in science fiction works. However, the solutions proposed and shown have varied.

But NASA scientists actually have a plan in place to “knock” an asteroid away, or rather, make a spaceship collide with it front-on.

The concept seems ridiculous, almost like an April Fool’s joke. But the project is very real, and is well into the planning and development phase.

The project is known as the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission, and was developed by NASA and John Hopkins University̵

7;s Applied Physics Laboratory together with several NASA centers.

The technology involved, as described on NASA’s website, includes what they call the “kinetic impactor” technique, which is supposed to be able to change an asteroid’s motion in space.

How it works is that the spacecraft will crash straight into an asteroid at a speed of around 6.6 kilometers per second. This should force the asteroid to change its orbital speed. It will only change it by a fraction of a percent, but it is enough to be observed and measured by astronomers with telescopes.

The vessel’s launch window will not open until the end of July, and will be launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Then it will fly into space for its first test in the Didymos asteroid system. Mankind’s first battle with fisticuffs against an asteroid is expected to take place in September 2022, when the vessel arrives at the system.

“Until now, we have not had too many options for what we could do if we found something that came in,” APL astronomer and DART research team leader Andy Rivkin told Vice News.

“DART is the first test of how we might be able to deflect something without having to resort to a nuclear package, or sit in our basements, wait for it and cross our fingers.”

The nuclear alternative Rivkin referred to is one of the most widely used methods of asteroid destruction in popular culture. Essentially, it would see that nuclear weapons were used to blow up the asteroid.

The idea is very spectacular to think about, and provides an impressive visual for science fiction movies. In real life, however, the idea is not ideal at best and potentially catastrophic at worst. This is because the destruction of an asteroid will result in the formation of smaller rocks, which are still likely to go towards the planet. If they pass through the Earth’s atmosphere, the damage they can cause will still be severe.

The DART project is more subtle, linking the asteroid with a softer jab instead of an explosive nuke.

Rivkin acknowledged this and told Vice that scientists just want to see what happens, and told the news outlet: “If asteroids are going to keep you awake at night, let it be with excitement about how cool they are, and do not worry.”

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