Scientists are planning to send two spacecraft to nudge an asteroid off its predicted path as a test run for what they would do in the future if an asteroid was on course to wipe out our planet.
The mission named the joint US –European AIDA (Asteroid Deflection and Assessment) is set to take place in October 2020. Scientists have identified a potential asteroid for the mission which they have called Didymoon, which is thought to be of perfect size for the test plan. As it is only a test, Didymoon doesn’t pose any threat to Planet Earth as it’s far too small and not on the right trajectory for a collision to take place, but it is suitable for a test run. Its path in the solar system has been followed closely by scientists for decades and in 2003, it came as near as 4.46 million miles away to Earth, which is relatively close in astronomical terms.
With the launch of the two spacecraft scheduled to take place in 2020, scientists are intending for the spacecraft to reach Didymoon in 2022, where scientists will then stage an intentional collision with the asteroid by firing a probe into the rock, hoping to knock it off course.
The two spacecraft to be launched on the AIDA mission are known as The European Space Agency’s Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM) and The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission which is to be launched by NASA. Both will have different roles. DART will fire the probe into Didymoon whereas AIM will circle Didymoon, attempt to gain and analyse its data and will monitor the effects of the collision. It will also put a lander on Didymoon which will be used to extrapolate data by looking at the inside of the asteroid.
Dr Patrick Michel, the lead investigator for the AIM half of the mission, has said: “To protect Earth from potentially hazardous impacts, we need to understand asteroids much better – what they are made of, their structure, origins and how they respond to collisions. The European part of the mission will study the structure of Didymoon and the orbit and rotation of the binary system, providing clues to its origin and evolution”, all of which are essential for scientists to discover more about asteroids and potentially hazardous near-Earth asteroids.