NASA set to launch spacecraft aimed at collision with asteroid in space

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NASA set to launch spacecraft aimed at collision with asteroid in space (image: Pixabay)
NASA set to launch spacecraft aimed at collision with asteroid in space (image: Pixabay)

New Delhi : NASA is all set to launch a spacecraft that is deliberately aimed at crashing into an asteroid. The aim of the mission is to test if we can change the course of an asteroid if ever required to avoid the collision of space rocks with Earth. 

The DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) is a proof-of-concept experiment, blasting off at 10:21 pm Pacific Time Tuesday (0621 GMT Wednesday) aboard a SpaceX rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

The spacecraft is aimed towards Dimorphos, a "moonlet" around 525 feet (160 meters, or two Statues of Liberty) wide, circling a much larger asteroid called Didymos (2,500 feet or 780 meters in diameter), which together orbit the Sun.

According to scientists, the collision is expected to happen in the fall of 2022, when the pair of rocks at 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometres) from Earth comes closest to our planet.

"What we're trying to learn is how to deflect a threat," said NASA's top scientist Thomas Zuburchen in a press call, of the $330 million projects, the first of its kind.

To keep the assumptions out from the picture, the asteroids in question pose no threat to our home planet. But since they fall under the class of bodies NEO (Near Earth Objects), they have been chosen for the test. 

The scientists picked them as they wanted to do the testing on the ones which are larger than 460 feet (140 meters) in size and have the potential to level entire cities or regions with many times the energy of average nuclear bombs.

There are 10,000 known near-Earth asteroids 460 feet in size or greater, but none has a significant chance to hit in the next 100 years. One major caveat: only about 40 per cent of those asteroids have been found to date.

The DART probe, which is a box the size of a large fridge with limousine-sized solar panels on either side, will slam into Dimorphos at just over 15,000 miles an hour (24,000 kilometres per hour), causing a small change in the asteroid's motion.

Their orbit never intersects our planet, providing a safe way to measure the effect of the impact, scheduled to occur between September 26 and October 1, 2022.

According to scientists, asteroids that are six miles wide (10 kilometres) -- such as the one that struck 66 million years ago and led to the extinction of most life on Earth, including the dinosaurs -- occur around every 100-200 million years.