NASA studying asteroids to prevent world killers

Published 8:36 am Saturday, November 9, 2019

Are you concerned about asteroids?

Interest in asteroids is rising. There is even a comic strip, “Over the Hedge,” in the Charleston paper that is featuring the 66 million years ago asteroid event.

There is irrefutable evidence that the dinosaurs and most of the other animals and most of the vegetation were wiped out when a huge asteroid impacted the earth near the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico 66 million years ago.

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This led to a resurgence of the mammals, according the paleontologists. It seems that NASA is preparing a mission to investigate the possibility of altering the orbit of a small asteroid.

With this mission, they will try to learn if it can be done. They are serious about the possibility of an asteroid in some future year hitting the earth.

Just what is NASA doing to study this problem?

There is this binary asteroid with one big chunk and one small one. The names of them are Didymos for the larger and Didymoon for the smaller.

The name of the mission is DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test).

The plan is to send up a space rocket to nudge the smaller of the asteroids into another orbit.

Let’s hope that the 2022 collision will not nudge it into an orbit that will impact the earth in some future year.

NASA expects to slam the space craft into the asteroid at 13,500 miles per hour. They are sending a Cubstat developed by Italy to travel along with DART to take and send pictures back of the collision.

The European Space Agency is considering sending a rocket to arrive in 2026 to study the two asteroids and measure the crater made by DART. It is close enough that ground-based telescopes can also observe the collision. In addition to that they will be utilized to guide the DART to the target. There is suggestion that we send an atomic bomb to blow one apart, but it is thought that gravity would bring it back together.

Maybe you have heard of the asteroid that exploded over a remote area in the Siberian part of Russia in June 1908. One estimate is that it had the force of 1,000 times that of the Hiroshima atom bomb. It is called the Tunguska Event.

It knocked over 80 million trees over an area of 830 square miles. If it had exploded over the state of Rhode Island, it would have wiped out 70 percent of its 1,200 square miles. There are varying estimates of the size of the asteroid.

If it were traveling a low speed, the estimate is 640 feet in diameter and if it were at a much higher speed the estimate is 160 feet. Fortunately, because it was in a remote area, the estimate of loss of human lives was only three.

I am not too concerned about an asteroid collision in my lifetime, of course. We may find other ways to destroy our civilization.

Don Lee, a pilot flying out of Lawrence County Airport since 1970, has been in charge of equipment and grounds maintenance for the last several years. He can be reached at