NASA just sent a $ 10M probe to explode in an asteroid

This very early Wednesday morning in France, everyone was just starting to get out of bed, while on the other side of the planet, in the dark California night, a SpaceX Falcon 9 had just left the Vandenberg launch pad. . On board, the NASA DART mission, one of SpaceX’s biggest contracts of the year.

Double Asteroid Redirection Testis the full name of this mission, so important to NASA and even to humanity. The probe will never return from its mission around the asteroids Didymos and Dimorphos. The latter, a small moon of Didymos is the target of the mission.

“Deep Impact” but in real life

Next year, when it will pass “close” to the Earth, the probe will come into contact with it. The shock should deflect the path of the asteroid pair. Sounding the death knell for the American part of the mission. Two years later, in 2024, a European mission, led by ESA, will in turn take to the air to join the pair of asteroids in 2026 and observe it more closely.

The European probe, called Hera, in honor of the goddess of the same name, should thus be able to measure whether the change in trajectory has indeed taken place for the pair of asteroids. The deviation from each other should only be a few tenths of a degree, but given the distances considered, it would be a shift of several hundred thousand kilometers.

Enough for the asteroid never to approach Earth again, its orbit will therefore be pushed back tens of thousands of kilometers. This mission must therefore serve as a full-scale test for NASA as regards its best method to deflect asteroids whose trajectory would have the bad idea of ​​meeting that of the Earth.

A 10 million dollar mission

NASA has been trying on paper for years to save the Earth in large-scale simulations. These are intended to train scientists if ever a celestial object were to threaten us. Because astronomers around the world are well aware of how dinosaurs left our Earth, and if a meteorite of the same size were on its way to Earth today, we wouldn’t have many more solutions.

Indeed, the simulations, started a few years ago by NASA have never been conclusive, and the takeoff this morning of the DART mission therefore raises great hopes. The American agency hopes that this mission, which will have cost the trifle of $ 10 million, will allow astronomers to better understand how the trajectory of asteroids evolves once they are disrupted.

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