Months after NASA showcased that it had the technology to navigate a spacecraft moving more than 14,000 miles per hour into hitting an asteroid, a new study suggests that similar methods could be used to protect the earth.
In late-September, NASA conducted its Double Asteroid Redirection Test, a mission that rammed a spacecraft into Dimorphos — a small asteroid that posed no threat to Earth — to test an “asteroid-deflection technique.”
Taking data from the successful test, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland published multiple scientific papers supporting the method as a potential guard against asteroid impacts, NASA announced in a news release earlier this month.
Findings showed the capabilities that NASA has as it relates to “intercepting an asteroid” that is similar in size to Dimorphos and “builds optimism about humanity’s capacity to protect the Earth from an asteroid threat,” the news release stated.
Nicola Fox, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington D.C., said the test in September was “just the start” of the team’s mission.
“These findings add to our fundamental understanding of asteroids and build a foundation for how humanity can defend Earth from a potentially hazardous asteroid by altering its course,” Fox said in a written statement.
Papers documented multiple findings of the first test, including those related to the autonomous targeting systems used to navigate the spacecraft and how the technique affected the trajectory of the target asteroid.
The DART team is part of NASA’s planetary defense efforts and its Near-Earth Object Observations Program, according to the agency’s website.
Researchers in the program try to identify, track and document at least 90 percent of objects in space that are at least 140 meters in size.
“Objects of this size and larger pose a risk to Earth of greatest concern due to the level of devastation an impact would cause, and should continue to be the focus of global search efforts,” the website states.
No asteroids that cross that 140-meter threshold are estimated to have a “significant chance” to hit our planet in the next century, but there are many near-Earth objects that have yet to be documented, according to NASA.
Nearly 1,000 people were injured — mainly from shattered glass — in 2013, when a meteor exploded over Russian skies.
Jason Kalirai, the civil space mission area executive at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, said the findings presented in the recently published papers will contribute to the world’s understanding of how to protect itself from the potential damage and impacts of extraterrestrial objects.
“With the core analysis activities starting after the impact of Dimorphos, the results demonstrate how successful the kinetic impactor technique can be — paving the way for a bright future for planetary defense,” Kalirai said.
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