Asteroid to be Deflected by ESA; So Long, Doomsday

First Posted: Jan 18, 2013 02:34 PM EST

If Superman isn't around to repel those pesky asteroids, the European Space Agency will be. The organization proposed sending out a mission to a nearby asteroid to test methods of asteroid deflection.

The proposed mission, called Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment, would send a pair of spacecraft to the asteroid 65803 Didymos. The asteroid doesn't currently pose any kind of threat to Earth, though it is scheduled to pass close by in the year 2022, making it an ideal candidate for this test.

The spacecraft, developed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, would approach the asteroid in space. Then one of the spacecraft, named Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) would smash into the asteroid at 6.25 km/second. The other spacecraft, named Asteroid Impact Monitor (AIM), would then measure how effective this crash was at deflecting the asteroid. Since the crash would take place at about 6.5 million miles, scientists on the ground would be able to measure the deflection using telescopes and therefore would be able to verify the data that AIM collects.

The crash between asteroid and spacecraft is expected to be sizeable. At the scheduled speed, the spacecraft would reach "hypervelocity." The impact wouldn't break the craft apart so much as completely vaporize it.

Although the Didymos asteroid doesn't pose a threat, the mission would provide data that could lead to deflecting future killer asteroids. Currently, ESA officials are seeking concepts to investigate the physics of high-speed collisions between objects like a spacecraft and an asteroid. Turns out that we don't need Superman after all.

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