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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Asteroid Impact Mission Picks A Target

A rendering of Didymos with its moon. (European Space Agency)

A rendering of Didymos with its moon. (European Space Agency)

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have announced a plan to intercept an asteroid in 2022 and throw it off course.

The mission would slam a spacecraft into a “binary” asteroid called Didymos, which is actually two space rocks orbiting each other – one about 2,600 feet across, the other about 490 feet.

A rendering of the AIDA mission concept. (European Space Agency)

A rendering of the AIDA mission concept. (European Space Agency)

Didymos is not on a course to hit Earth, but it’s coming close enough (within 6.8 million miles) to conduct an experiment to learn more about how humanity could deflect a potentially dangerous asteroid.

The plan comes after a meteorite exploded Feb. 15 above the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, injuring 1,200 people and damaging thousands of buildings. On the same day, an asteroid called “2012 DA14” came historically close to planet Earth.

Plans for the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission, or AIDA as it’s called, have been in the works long before our recent close encounters with large celestial bodies.

It’s just one of the strategies scientists are developing to help Earth avoid a catastrophic collision with an asteroid.

Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory is providing AIDA’s collider, and the observing spacecraft will come from ESA.

Guest:

  • Kelly Beatty, senior contributing editor for Sky & Telescope magazine.

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