NASA testing planetary defence spacecraft to divert asteroid's path
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Asteroid 4660 Nereus is expected to pass about 4.6million miles from the Blue Planet, rocketing at a speed of 15,000mph. It is estimated to contain $4.7billion (£3.5billion) worth of nickel, iron, and cobalt. While it is absolutely no danger to humanity, NASA still classes this distance as “potentially hazardous”.
The asteroid is one of the closest known giant asteroids to pass us and experts say it could be visible with clear skies from the UK at around 2.50pm on Friday.
This object will not be visible to the eye alone, as it will only reach a visual magnitude of around 12.
That’s far too faint to see with the eye.
EarthSky reports that to see Nereus, you would need at least an 8-inch (20-cm) telescope.
According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) website, a “potentially hazardous” asteroid is at least 150metres in size and within 4.6million miles of Earth’s orbit.
While the rock will travel quite a distance away from Earth, Spacereference.org reports 4660 Nereus will make around a dozen close passes in the next few decades.
The closest is expected to come on Valentine’s Day in 2060 when it is said to be as close as 745,000 miles away.
However, the asteroid was first detected by scientists back in 1982.
Experts say the rock is “tiny compared to large asteroids,” which many have long warned about.
Professor Martin Barstow, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Leicester, said: “Collectively, asteroids do pose a potential threat, as the dinosaurs found out 63 million years ago.
“Scientists are interested in groups of asteroids for this reason and it is vital that we track them because one day we might find one that could cause a problem, although that prospect is unlikely.
“The things that we are really scared about are the things we don’t yet know anything about.
“That’s why we have initiatives to search space to find these objects and the Double Asteroid Redirect Mission to help protect us in the event that one might collide with Earth.”
Even though the chance of an asteroid impacting Earth is relatively low, even a small asteroid of about 500 feet (about 150 meters) across carries enough energy to cause havoc around the impact site.
Dr Franck Marchis, an astronomer at the SETI Institute and chief scientific officer at Unistellar, told The Sun: “Its orbit could be deflected by various things such as an encounter with another asteroid or a planet like Venus. Any deviation could be an issue.
“It’s like if you have an evil neighbour, it’s in your interests to know where they are and what they’re doing.”
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NASA had been conducting missions to detect and track potentially hazardous asteroids to save humanity.
The space agency looks into anything within 120 million miles of Earth a Near-Earth Object, with thousands tracked by scientists to monitor whether they will ever cause an issue.
Fast-moving objects in the cosmos that come within 4.65 million miles are thought to be ‘‘potentially hazardous”.
Just one small change to their trajectory could be catastrophic for Earth.
But NASA is preparing for this.
If an asteroid was spotted and thought to be on a collision course with Earth, one response could be to launch a “kinetic impactor”.
This is a high-velocity spacecraft that would deflect the asteroid by smashing into it, altering the asteroid’s orbit slightly so that it dodges the Earth.
NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), launched last month, will be the first mission to demonstrate asteroid deflection using a kinetic impactor.
DART will test kinetic impactor technology by targeting a double asteroid that is not on a path to collide with Earth, which does not pose an actual threat to the planet.
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