NASA wants to stop an asteroid from crashing into Earth

Editor’s Note — Scientists used the images and data from the craft to create a 3D map of the asteroid’s orbit. Check it out here: http://bit.ly/2KpXmH8. (CNN) – NASA’s Deep Space Network radio telescope…

NASA wants to stop an asteroid from crashing into Earth

Editor’s Note — Scientists used the images and data from the craft to create a 3D map of the asteroid’s orbit. Check it out here: http://bit.ly/2KpXmH8.

(CNN) – NASA’s Deep Space Network radio telescope in Goldstone, California, will start transmitting data from the rock HD 101814 on February 1.

Then a barrage of space rocks originating from the asteroid will slam into it, creating a supersonic “drain” to the ground in the United States, Europe and Mexico, according to NASA scientists.

“We are tracking the asteroid every day as it passes by Earth,” said Tina Finn, program executive for planetary defense at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The reason we’re testing this concept is to give us options should a potentially hazardous asteroid come near Earth.”

The Deep Space Network, based in California, is a group of 16 antennas that help radio telescopes monitor stars, galaxies and the sun. Their sensors will work in tandem to watch for any changes in the asteroid, then shut off transmitting if needed.

If HD 101814 encounters another planet — an Earthbound object the size of a small city — rather than crashing into Earth, the craft’s radio waves would be converted into radiation. Those that come from the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter — and may be growing — would create a damaging “magnet,” says astronomers.

“Asteroids and comets that we find by chance are called ‘background’ signals, because they’re so faint,” Finn said. “If an asteroid nears Earth, the scientific team will monitor it continuously. But they’ll also have a second objective — to save the planet.”

And scientists said that’s the purpose of this campaign: find something that’s close and urgent and put the brakes on it.

HD 101814, which was discovered in 1999, has an orbit that will keep it in Earth’s neighborhood, but it will come closer than the moon in August 2050.

This year, this asteroid comes closest on February 4, 2052. That’s when it will swing within 100,000 miles of Earth.

In late June, the craft will slam into the asteroid from more than 1 million miles away. This scenario has a similar impact as a meteor impacts Earth, but not on the same scale.

“An asteroid impact would be devastating if it struck at its maximum size,” said NASA’s Jan Ettinger. “It would be like a one-megaton explosion equivalent to the biggest nuclear bomb ever detonated — and that’s not including all the secondary explosions in the atmosphere.”

Four other spacecraft are taking part in the asteroid threat defense campaign: The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), the NEOWISE space probe, the OXB team and the Pan-STARRS asteroid survey telescope in Hawaii.

This event may be small but rare and could help scientists learn how to detect and deflect other asteroids, the space agency said.

Most of NASA’s focus has been on protecting Earth from an asteroid collision. But the agency also works to discover the smaller space rocks and ensure that they remain safe.

In October, scientists announced that a space rock exploded above Russia’s Ural Mountains on Feb. 15, 2013, leveling forests in the area and injuring more than 1,000 people when people ran outside to see the meteor streak across the sky.

Scientists with NASA and the European Space Agency said their team had determined that the object — one of the largest to impact Earth’s atmosphere and land since the space age began — was an asteroid named 2013 TX68.

“I think we just have to hope,” said Justin Berger, a research scientist with NASA’s Lunar and Planetary Institute. “The less imminent the threat, the more valuable these types of missions are.”

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