Diversion maneuvers in space – NASA space probe DART is supposed to bring asteroid off course

The NASA probe DART shortly before the impact in the asteroid moon Dimorphos (illustration) (JHU / NASA) (JHU / NASA)

It is June 30, 1908, in the morning, around 7:15 a.m., somewhere in the Siberian steppe, near Tunguska, today’s Krasnoyarsk region. In the truest sense of the word “out of the blue”, this area of ​​Russia will be changed forever: An asteroid penetrates the earth’s atmosphere. It explodes with a force equivalent to almost a thousand Hiroshima bombs. The pressure wave uproots all trees within a radius of 30 kilometers. People were not harmed in this remote area, not this time.

Only those who know their enemy can defend themselves

“We know there are about a million asteroids out there that are bigger than Tunguska’s. They regularly cross the earth’s orbit. However, we only recorded less than one percent of them, ”says former astronaut Ed Lu. He was once in the service of the US space agency NASA. He then co-founded the B612 Foundation. This privately financed association is named after an – invented – asteroid in the novel “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

“It is imperative that we increase our knowledge of these objects. If we have no idea what is flying around where, there is nothing we can do about it. ”- The survival of mankind could depend on the knowledge of asteroids on a collision course. But it is by no means without a chance. She has ways of defending herself. The old schoolyard method seems to be most effective: pushing away.

Just push it away

As ancient as this attack and defense strategy sounds – a small push might be enough to dissuade such a dangerous, alien opponent from his course. AIDA should now clarify whether this really works, the “Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment” – a space mission in which a probe hits an asteroid and thereby distracts it from its course.

The project consists of a European and a US-American part. First of all, NASA wants to start its probe – the one that is supposed to push. At more than 20,000 kilometers per hour, it should hit the asteroid Dimorphos unchecked in exactly one year.

ESA should check the effectiveness

Two years after this cosmic push, Europe’s space agency ESA will send its probe behind. She should look up on site to see how the asteroid has changed. How big is the impact crater? And how much mass was knocked out of the celestial body by the impact?

“We’re going to miss the actual show. But we’re not too late to take measurements. We want to study the effects of the impact. How much the impact probe deflected the asteroid from its course depends on its mass and structure. Pressing a sponge is not the same as pressing metal. We want to know whether the asteroid has a sandy structure or whether it consists of solid rock. “

The hope of Patrick Michel from the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur in Nice, the chief scientist of the European part of AIDA: Asteroid hit, course changed, mission successful, earth saved. Whether this succeeds remains to be seen when such a chunk of the depths of space really approaches the earth. The probability of this is – at least – one percent per century.


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