NASA Plans To Redirect Asteroid By Hitting It Really Hard With Spacecraft In Armageddon-Like Move

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Armageddon

It may sound like a decision directly out of a Michael Bay movie, but NASA really does intend to try out the “just hit it really hard” solution for deflecting oncoming asteroids.

In the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission, NASA will demonstrate the kinetic impactor — in layman’s terms, “hit it really hard” technique.

The mission will measure the change caused by the spacecraft’s impact into a moonlet at 6.6 km/s on the motion of a moonlet.

Now, if the word “moonlet” didn’t tip you off, this space rock is enormous compared to any spacecraft humanity has ever launched at 160 meters and solid rock. The mass of the moonlet is barely comparable to that of the spacecraft NASA intends to run into it.

So all this begs the question. Why?

What is NASA's DART mission?

DART is a part of NASA’s continued efforts to defend the Earth from oncoming asteroids. 

What NASA does when looking at objects in space is measure things like their relative speeds, mass, gravity, etc. and from these measurements, NASA can accurately determine the future path of said objects. Whether in a stable orbit, entering or exiting our solar system or launched from Earth, NASA has gotten really good at predicting the motion of stuff in space.

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So what happens if NASA determines that an asteroid is on a collision course with the Earth?

Well nothing, right now, we haven’t done a lot to test methods of redirecting asteroids. That’s where DART comes in.

Even though the spacecraft that NASA is using to impact the asteroid is orders of magnitude less massive than the moonlet it’s headed for, it’s moving really fast and, as any high school physics teacher will tell you, the force that one object can impart on another comes from a combination of its mass and speed.

DART isn’t going to move the moonlet very much. That’s because it doesn’t have to.

It is believed that dart is going to change the speed of the moonlet by just a fraction of one percent.

A fraction of one percent doesn’t sound like much, but if you’re talking about an asteroid at the outskirts of the solar system on a collision course with earth, a difference of a fraction of one percent could mean the difference between hitting the earth and missing it by hundreds of thousands of miles.

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Imagine driving on the highway and you see one of the lanes is blocked a quarter mile down the road. You can gently and lazily merge into another lane. That's the equivalent of NASA noticing an Asteroid on course for Earth while it's still far off.

On the other hand, if you only notice that the lane is blocked 100 feet before you run out of road, it's going to take a lot of violent effort to swerve out of the way. And it's possible that it may even be too late to change course.

So, what can a layman take away from this? Well when you get the brightest minds in the world together, a sea of PHDs, centuries of combined schooling and ask a question...

Sometimes you get a very simple answer.

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Dan O'Reilly is a writer who covers news, politics and social justice. Follow him on Twitter.