NASA and ESA to Shoot an Asteroid for the Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment Mission

The Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment mission is a joint effort by the United States’ NASA and the European Space Agency to investigate the threat of an asteroid collision with our planet. The first mission, dubbed the Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM), is set for October 2020 in which a spacecraft will enter and observe the Didymos binary asteroid system. Didymos is 800 meters wide and is orbited by a 170 meter wide asteroid, the “Didymoon”. The Didymoon is the selected target for NASA and ESA. Although the exact nature of the space agencies’ experiments is still being decided, ESA may possible make contact with the smaller asteroid using a lander. CubeSats will be used to gather initial data, including optical and thermal maps.

The second stage of the mission is known as the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) which kicks in two years later. In the year 2022, the spacecraft will accelerate to 13,000 miles per hour and strike Didymoon, while AIM will stand by to record and relay the results of DART’s kinetic impact. Ian Carnelli, mission manager of AIM, states that the impact will reveal the role of “ejecta plume” on a larger scale. Ejecta plume is an unusual formation of debris after impact with both a low angle plume and an extreme high angle plume that rose nearly straight up. With the Earth safely out of harm’s way, being approximately 6 million miles away, this will mark the first time an impact calibrated to this level will be studied.

According to Discovery News, if an asteroid the size of the Didymoon were to strike Earth it would leave a crater 2.5 kilometers wide and cause thousands of kilometers of damage. In comparison, the Tunguska impactor which destroyed 80 million trees in a 2,150 square kilometer area in Russia in 1908 was almost three times smaller than Didymoon.

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