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  • Writer's pictureAmelia Ahnert

Can we protect Earth from an asteroid collision?

Rocks are hurtling through space right now and Earth is hit by them all the time. Luckily those are smaller rocks, but it’s only a matter of time until a large asteroid comes in contact with Earth again. The last major asteroid impact happened around 66 million years ago! NASA and other space agencies want to be prepared to prevent it from happening again. The mission is called DART: Double Asteroid Redirection Test. We love a good acronym! This mission tested the effectiveness of changing an asteroid’s path by slamming a spacecraft into the asteroid! The asteroid moon Dimorphos was hit successfully on September 26, 2022 by NASA’s DART spacecraft. Check out the images taken from the spacecraft as it gets closer and closer to impact with the asteroid.

The impact caused the orbital speed of Dimorphos to change, meaning it now takes 32 minutes less to circle around the larger asteroid it’s orbiting. This is the first time humanity has purposefully changed the motion of an object in space. Will it be the last?

Model the DART Mission

Earth Options: paper circle, chalk drawing, globe. Asteroid Options: basketball, soccer ball, beach ball. DART Spacecraft Options: golf ball, rubber ball, tennis ball.

Here’s an activity that you can complete to model the DART mission. Select an object to represent the Earth, an asteroid, and the DART spacecraft.

  • Earth Options: circle on paper, a globe, a box, a chalk drawing of Earth on the sidewalk

  • Asteroid Options: basketball, soccer ball, other large rolling object

  • DART Spacecraft Options: marble, tennis ball, bouncy ball

Roll the “asteroid” towards “Earth” and roll the “spacecraft” to hit the moving target. How does the collision impact the "asteroid’s" path? Test out different objects to represent the asteroid and spacecraft. Which “spacecrafts” are the most effective? Does the speed of the “spacecraft” make a difference? Is it easier to change the direction of a lighter or heavier “asteroid”?

Want to learn more?

Here are additional resources on the DART mission with NASA and the ESA.

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