NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - Tuesday night, humanity will make its first attempt ever to defend itself against threats that are out of this world – asteroids.
The sky seemed to ignite in February, 2013 as the Chelyabinsk meteor careened toward earth. A shock wave shattered windows, injuring more than 1,000 people. The motherland of this meteor – a near-earth asteroid about 20 meters wide.
"We are constantly getting hit by small meteorites, but we know there are bigger ones out there," said Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division. Glaze says that's why NASA is preparing now for the future, when an asteroid does threaten life on earth and we need to defend our planet.
Tuesday night, the DART mission rockets into outer space. DART stands for Double Asteroid Redirection Test. Using solar power for propulsion, 10 months from now NASAs DART will be 6.5 million miles away and within striking distance of a near-earth double asteroid – Didymos – the larger of the two, and Dimorphos, the smaller, or "moonlet."
DART will be ramming into Dimorphos in hopes of redirecting it. "The asteroid we are trying to hit is about the size of a football stadium," Glaze said. "And we're going to try and hit it with something the size of a refrigerator."
DART won't have eyes on Dimorphos until its about an hour away from impact. "It will show up as one pixel in the camera," Glaze said.
The spacecraft will start snapping pics of its target and navigate without human intervention. "Figure out what's the best angle to hit that asteroid and get that momentum transfer," Glaze said.
Could redirecting send the asteroid in the wrong direction? WCBS-TV in New York asked American Museum of Natural History's curator of meteorites Denton Ebel. "This is rocket science," Ebel said. "We know these things hit the earth, so we need to know how to deflect them – especially big ones."
Thankfully, scientists know of no big ones heading our way. Rest easy knowing NASA is ready to launch the future of our planetary defense.
You might be wondering why doesn't NASA just blow up the asteroid? Glaze says it's the one thing you don't want to do. Instead of one big asteroid hurtling toward earth, you'll end up with thousands: Blowing it up doesn't change its orbit.
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