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When Astronaut Michael Massimino landed on the sea floor of the frigid ocean depths, he witnessed the wreckage of the Spirit Rover.
“Touchdown. Welcome to the surface,” he recalled to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum,
“We’re all banding together to look for an other way to explore the planet.”
Massimino will soon be returning to these depths to explore yet another planet, in this case, Earth.
NASA’s team of scientists, engineers, and technicians will launch an experiment on Thursday to crash into a threatening space rock.
They’re aiming for a huge asteroid, called 2015 TB145, which is about 80 feet wide and is expected to pass relatively close to Earth on September 16, when it will fly by in orbit at a distance just under 1.8 million miles from our planet. This is 16 times the distance between Earth and the moon.
“This asteroid is still very much the unknown,” Dr. Rob Smith, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center and one of the leading members of the DART mission team, told Space.com.
“Once we hit it and shatter it, we’ll know a lot more about what the physical effects of smashing into it are. What could possibly go wrong? And what do we want to do with it?”
Graphic: DART Mission DART launches to crash into an asteroid, to save Earth. Yes, aliens. Yes, their bodies are tiny, but they are on a collision course with Earth. For some reason, we treat an asteroid like an invading army of alien invaders, which is exactly what it is, just disguised as a mother lode of gold.
The high-speed DART spacecraft — which will travel at just under a mile per second to reduce the impact size of the asteroid — and a small detector called the ROSAT satellite will collide with the asteroid, sending a violent jolt of energy that will shatter the asteroid’s internal parts, explode surrounding rock particles and cause radioactive debris to fall into the atmosphere, ending any chances of a collision.
For about two minutes after impact, after the ice core-sized grains of rock fall into the earth, the rock will be illuminated by the sun, Smith said.
“DART is a precise instrument,” Smith said. “We hope to actually see the aerosols that fall from the asteroids.”
The sensors on the ROSAT satellite will record the radio radiation emitted by the dust particles.
The ROSAT satellite is set to fly through Earth’s atmosphere and slam into the asteroid as well, taking hundreds of observations. It will bombard the asteroid with radio energy for months to generate dust particles until they explode as meteorites, which will fall to Earth, Smith said.
The ROSAT team expects the asteroid to explode with 2,200 kilotons of energy. Smith suspects the DART team will throw just as much energy at the asteroid.
NASA hopes the plan will have the added benefit of teaching NASA about how dangerous asteroids like this are when traveling near our planet.
DART aims to improve NASA’s knowledge of how to spot potentially hazardous asteroids and space rocks and also help the science community understand their impact when they strike.
“It’s like the gunk in a model that we’re using to discover where the space rocks are, and it’s the same concept with asteroids,” Smith said.
Smith says he’s excited about the asteroid that the team will be crashing into and believes the astronauts living on the moon after NASA’s current manned mission come to earth in the not-too-distant future will see the shattered fragments as remnants of the asteroid.
“The guys and gals who will inhabit the moon after we leave, who are aware of the extinction-level events that resulted from hitting asteroids in space and on Earth, will think that that’s not an issue,” Smith said.
“In a sense, when it’s pushed too far, no one will notice.”
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Tom Moore joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 2001 and currently serves as a Los Angeles-based senior correspondent.