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The European Space Agency doesn’t want us to all die in a fiery doomsday when an asteroid hits the Earth, so the inter-governmental organization wants your help developing a plan of action to stop the deadly armageddon.
“ESA is appealing for research ideas to help guide the development of a US–European asteroid deflection mission now under study,” the agency said in a statement.
The ESA’s best bet for getting rid of rogue asteroids? A “hypervelocity impact.”
Basically, this would entail accelerating another large object to incredible speeds, at least several kilometres per second, and pointing the fast-moving object at the asteroid in question.
“At such high speed that materials do not just shatter car-crash-style but are vaporised, turning even metal and solid rock into the hot soup of charged particles called plasma,” the ESA said.
The concept is similar to that of a high velocity rail-gun although the objects used as ammunition would have to be much larger.
The agency also said that studying hyper-velocity impacts has short term benefits as well. In addition to helping stop the very low-probability chance that the Earth will be destroyed by an asteroid, it will also help with figuring out what will happen in much higher probability chance that satellites in the increasingly cluttered near-Earth orbit collide.
Beyond hypervelocity impacts, the specific short-term program in question for dealing with asteroids is called AIDA (Asteroid Impact and Deflection mission) and the first test of the program will be smashing two asteroids together.
This innovative but low-budget transatlantic partnership involves the joint operations of two small spacecraft sent to intercept a binary asteroid.
The first Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft, designed by the US Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory will collide with the smaller of the two asteroids.
Meanwhile, ESA’s Asteroid Impact Monitor (AIM) craft will survey these bodies in detail, before and after the collision.
The impact should change the pace at which the objects spin around each other, observable from Earth. But AIM’s close-up view will ‘ground-truth’ such observations.
Of course, if we follow all of the science fiction movies about the subject, such tinkering will, of course, create an impact event that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
You can find out more about the ESA’s program here.
And if you want a reminder of what the ESA is trying to stop, here is a clip from 1998′s Deep Impact: