Published on: 09/23/2022 – 09:40Modified on: 09/23/2022 – 09:44 NASA will try to do what science fiction has long envisioned: divert the trajectory of an asteroid for the first time by crashing a ship on its surface. A test of “planetary defense”, which should make it possible to better protect humanity against a possible future threat. The test is imminent. The Dart mission (dart, in English) took off in November from California. After ten months of travel, the spacecraft is due to hit the asteroid Dimorphos at 23:14 GMT Monday, September 26, at a speed of over 20,000 km/h. The spacecraft is no bigger than a car, and its target is about 160 meters in diameter, half the height of the Eiffel Tower. Do not panic, Dimorphos does not represent a threat to the Earth in any way: its orbit around the Sun passes only seven million kilometers from us as close as possible. But the mission “is important to achieve before we discover a real need,” said Andrea Riley, in charge of the mission at NASA. The moment of impact promises to be spectacular and can be followed live on the American agency’s video channel. It is not a question of destroying the asteroid, but of pushing it slightly. The technique is called kinetic impact. Dimorphos is actually the satellite of a larger asteroid, Didymos (780 meters in diameter), which it circles in 11 hours and 55 minutes. The goal is to reduce Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos by about ten minutes. This change can be measured by telescopes from Earth, by observing the variation in brightness as the small asteroid passes in front of the large one. objective may seem modest but this demonstration is crucial for the future. It is a question of better understanding how Dimorphos, representative of a population of fairly common asteroids, whose exact composition we do not know, will react. The effect of the impact will largely depend on its porosity, i.e. whether it is more or less compact. hours, like a self-guided missile. His camera, called Draco, will take the very first images of the asteroid at the last moment, the shape of which is not yet known (round, oblong, etc.). At a rate of one frame per second, visible live on Earth with a delay of only about 45 seconds. Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at Johns Hopkins University in eastern Maryland, where the control center is located. “These images will keep coming, until they don’t,” said she added, referring to the moment of the explosion. Three minutes later, a shoebox-sized satellite, called LiciaCube and released by the craft a few days ago, will pass about 55 km of the asteroid to capture images of the ejecta, the fragments generated by the explosion. They will be sent back to Earth in the following weeks and months. The event will also be observed by the Hubble and James Webb space telescopes, which should be able to detect a bright cloud of dust.>> Read also: the beauty of Jupiter revealed by unpublished photos from the James-Webb telescopeThen, the European Hera probe, which is due to take off in 2024, will closely observe Dimorphos in 2026 to assess the consequences of the impact and calculate, for the first time, the mass of the asteroid. 30,000 near-Earth asteroidsVery few known asteroids are considered potentially dangerous, and none are over the next hundred years. But “I guarantee that if you wait long enough, there will be an object,” said NASA chief scientist Thomas Zurbuchen. Nearly 30,000 asteroids of all sizes have been cataloged in the vicinity of the Earth (they are called near-Earth objects, that is, their orbit crosses that of our planet). About 3,000 new ones are found every year. Those a kilometer or more have nearly all been spotted, scientists say. But they estimate they only know about 40% of asteroids measuring 140 meters and larger – those capable of devastating an entire region. If Dart misses its target, the ship should have enough fuel for another attempt in two years. the mission succeeds, it will be a first step towards a real defense capability, according to Nancy Chabot. “Earth has been hit by asteroids for billions of years, and it will happen again. As humans, let’s make sure we live in a civilization where we can avoid it.” With AFP
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