Either the astrophysicists at Johns Hopkins have never seen a space-action movie, or they’ve seen way too many. Those are the only explanations I can come up with for why they’d argue in favor of slamming a spaceship into a giant asteroid… just to see what might happen.
Of course, because this is Johns Hopkins, there’s some real science behind the idea. If a dangerous asteroid ever starts traveling on a path that might cause it to collide with Earth, we’ll want to know how to deflect it — and, hey, we may as well practice before things get actually apocalyptic.
“This is the biggest problem for planetary defense,” says Hopkins APL physicist Andrew Cheng, making us feel a little petty about our day-to-day worries. He may be right: as our instruments for spying asteroids at a distance have gotten much more sophisticated, we still don’t have anything that could alter the orbit of a space body barreling toward us.
The APL scientists even have an asteroid in mind, and they have until 2022 to plan the mission. Its name is Didymos, and it’s just a little guy (500 feet wide), so theoretically a spacecraft could jolt it out of its course. And since it’ll be relatively nearby (6.5 million miles away), scientists will be able to monitor the event with telescopes. The team is waiting on word for NASA funding, but since it’s pretty much the coolest space-related plan we’ve heard of recently, we’re pretty sure they’ll get the money somehow. (Maybe Bruce Willis could make a donation?)
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