As massive asteroids passing through space in the relative vicinity of Earth continue to stoke fears that one of the rocks could collide with our planet, Brian May, astrophysicist and Queen’s lead guitarist, explained how NASA and the ESA are preparing to address this so far hypothetical threat.
As May explained in a video uploaded on YouTube, the space agencies are going to test their hypothetical ability to deflect asteroids on Didymos 65803, a potentially hazardous 775-metre asteroid orbited by a 160-metre moon, which he described as "a mountain in the sky with another rock about the size of the Great Pyramid swinging around it."
"And just the seemingly tiny moon would be big enough to destroy a city if it were to collide with Earth. But we’re going to find out if it’s possible to deflect it. This is going to be really, really hard," May added.
First, NASA is going to slam its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) impactor spacecraft into the smaller asteroid at a speed of over 6 kilometers per second, May said.
Then, the ESA component of the mission, HERA, will swoop in to map the resulting impact crater and measure the mass of the asteroid, while a pair of CubeSats will examine the space rock from an even closer distance, eventually even landing on it.
"The scale of this experiment is huge, one day these results could be crucial for saving our planet. HERA’s up-close observation after DART’s impact will help prove whether asteroids can be deflected, prove whether this is an effective planetary defence technique, so that if an asteroid ever poses a real threat to Earth, we’ll be ready," May added.