Crashing Into That Asteroid Didn’t Go As Planned

( – NASA’s attempt to divert an asteroid resulted in the release of a swarm of boulders from the target, each with the potential energy of an atomic bomb. Thankfully, the target asteroid was not careening toward Earth but was part of a test to determine NASA’s capability to knock potential threats to the planet off course.

In September 2022, scientists aimed a spacecraft at Dimorphos, an asteroid that poses no threat to Earth, and crashed into it in order to measure the result in the first-ever attempt to divert an asteroid in our solar system.

While the experiment was successful in altering the course of the asteroid, it also released 37 boulders from the target which now share the same speed as their progenitor, roughly 13,000 miles per hour. The experiment showed that should something like this be attempted in the future, one of the potential risks is the creation of more falling objects.

UCLA professor David Jewitt compared the expanding cloud of debris to shrapnel from a hand grenade. He also said that since the offspring have the same speed as their parent, they present their own individual threats should they collide with Earth.

The Hubble Space Telescope spotted the debris cloud and researchers estimated that the boulders range from 3 to 22 feet in diameter. Jewitt said that a 15 ft boulder hitting Earth at the speed they’re traveling at would release similar amounts of energy as the Hiroshima bomb.

Pictures from Hubble and the experimental craft that collided with the asteroid showed that the boulders were not parts of the asteroid ejected, but rather boulders that were bundled on the surface. Scientists suggested that when they crashed the craft into the asteroid it shook the surface and caused the fragments to slowly spread from the main body.

Dimorphos orbits another asteroid called Didymos, Dimorphos is roughly the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza whereas Didymos is the size of a mountain. The binary asteroid system comes around 6 million miles from Earth during its closest pass, which is why it was chosen for the experiment.

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