NASA on Wednesday launched a mission, which would theoretically see a spacecraft the size of a large fridge, purposely crash into an asteroid in an attempt to change its orbit. The Double Asteroid Redirection Trajectory (DART) probe, is to crash into the Dimorphos moon, which circles the larger Dedymos asteroid, in September 2022. The results are being assessed by cubed satellites, which are currently aboard DART. It is hoped that the deliberate crash would slightly slowdown the asteroid’s trajectory over time, resulting in it missing Earth. The mission will cost over $300 million, and is aimed at preparing for a worst-case scenario, which would see an asteroid headed toward earth, and measures required, to change its direction. There are currently around 10 000 larger asteroids in orbit, none of which threaten earth, with scientists arguing that another 15 000 are still unknown.
Speaking to Radio Islam International, Jerome Jooster, head of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa, argued that this had been tried in 2015, with a European led mission, but that the technology used in DART was far more sophisticated. Jooster further argued that it is unlikely that any trajectory alternation would threaten another life-carrying planet, especially since Earth’s orbital system is millions of kilometres away from other systems.
He further argued that this wasn’t provided much fanfare since, unlike Space X, it is not marketing aimed at a product, but that “within the scientific community, there’s a big hoo haa.” The crash will occur between September and October 2022, and will only be seen through sophisticated telescopes, not in one’s “back Yard.”
Last, Jooster argued that these missions were about “planetary defence”, and that there’s only limited political gain in relation to the US, China and Russia. This is despite the fact that China is to start a similar mission in 2022.
An EU/Japanese mission will be dispatched in 2026 in an attempt to measure the slow-down of Didymos’s trajectory and whether or not the mission had been successful.