Science, Technology, and Social Media

Can We Stop An Incoming Asteroid?

Earth’s very close call — in cosmic terms — with an asteroid Tuesday lead some to ask if we could prevent a substantial disaster.

An asteroid, 1994 PC1, over half a mile wide was calculated to come within 1.2 million miles of Earth on Jan. 18, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The asteroid is categorized as a “potentially hazardous” object by If it were to hit the planet, it would carve out a crater over nine miles wide and 2,000 feet deep, according to an impact calculator developed by Imperial College London and Purdue University.

NASA is already carrying out a mission to see if it could deflect an asteroid. In November 2021, the agency launched the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), “the world’s first full-scale planetary defense test.”

The probe will deliberately crash into an object orbiting the asteroid Didymos to test whether a kinetic impact could be used to deflect an asteroid that is about to strike Earth, according to DART’s website.

“While there are several other proposed ways to redirect potentially hazardous asteroids, deflection through kinetic impact technology is currently assessed as the most technologically mature approach,” a spokesperson for NASA’s Planetary Defense Office told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

While several hit Hollywood movies have featured the use of nuclear weapons against incoming asteroids, such action doesn’t appear to be in NASA’s plans. In 2000, the NEAR-Shoemaker probe orbited an asteroid, and in February 2001, it made a “soft landing” on the asteroid.

“NEAR Shoemaker was not designed to test asteroid deflection technology as a method of planetary defense and it wasn’t even designed to land on an asteroid,” the NASA spokesperson told the DCNF. “It was instead designed as a science reconnaissance mission to rendezvous with and study an asteroid using technology that was available at the time, and the slow descent and soft landing of the spacecraft was controlled remotely from the ground.”

“DART—humanity’s first test for planetary defense—is a low-cost spacecraft designed to autonomously navigate itself to and successfully impact with an asteroid target at high speed to test the kinetic impactor technique, which is one method of asteroid deflection technology to change an asteroid’s motion in space,” the spokesperson added.

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