Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Test of Asteroid Defence

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Solar System, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Biodiversity, Global Climate Change, Global Warming.

Ed Hessler

On November 23, 2021 is scheduled the launch of the spacecraft known as Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART). It is headed to two asteroids, Dimrophos and Didymus, one of which Dimorphus orbits Didymos. The former is 160 meters wide; the other is about 800 meters wide.

The intention is for the spacecraft to hit Dimorphos to see whether it can change its trajectory. It may be a technology that one day earthlings will have to employ to deflect a much larger asteroid from smashing into Earth and creating ecological and socioeconomic havoc.

An essay by Alexandra Witze in the scientific journal Nature tells the story and has a great diagram of this planned encounter and a photograph of the Dart spacecraft with a small group of the research team sitting nearby making close observations while it was being tested. An interesting feature is that "a tiny probe funded by the Italian Space Agency will fly by to photograph the aftermath . Named LICIACube, it will travel aboard DART.  If all goes as planned, "its cameras should spot the dust cloud, if the impact kicks one up, and possibly the resulting crater."

Should we be worried? Witze reports that “The odds of something large enough to be a problem, that we would have to deflect, are pretty slim in our lifetimes,” says Andy Rivkin, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU-APL) in Laurel, Maryland, which built the spacecraft for NASA. “But sometimes your number comes up when you don’t expect it, and it’s good to have an insurance policy.”

The title of the essay includes the phrase "in first planetary-defence test."  It hit me between the eyes, as is said. I don't want to be picky--well, maybe I do--but one test we have been taking and showing little success at coming close to receiving a minimal passing grade is the protection of the planet, its people and all the other living species that are aboard, has been global climate change.  I think it is fair to say global climate crisis. The most recent effort is the just concluded COP26 and it will be a while before we can measure any success from it.

The space launch is the easy test; saving our home is here is the really hard one. COP26 was the 26th time world leaders have attended a conference of the parties to deal with this threat, almost three decades of earth time.

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