Nasa’s plan to hit an asteroid to learn about space

NASA just announced it will soon deploy a spacecraft that will attempt to destroy an asteroid called 2004 BL86. The asteroid is about 460 feet in diameter and it’s traveling at 1.6 million miles per hour. In fact, it’s so close to the earth that it only makes a total pass of 31,246 miles in August of 2027 and 2012, a year later. The mission is called Deep Impact. The event is so aggressive that during the impact, we could see a “biblical wail of sonic booms” among other aspects of what we call space.

Based upon what scientists think the asteroid’s likely composition might be, they are hopeful to even find rare minerals on the surface. If successful, the asteroid will be rendered in a flaming and shredded state. If not, the crater it creates will show an odd shape and unfold a crater wall that is not expected to be “run down”. What about the asteroid itself? The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) says it will not need to be scientifically accounted for.

As such, researchers hope a thorough study of the impacts will reveal which parts of the asteroid were destroyed in the rock’s first encounter with Earth. NASA says the mission, the first in its 60-year history to the asteroid belt, will enable scientists to study the volatile materials of ancient asteroids and learn more about the origin of comets and asteroids.

The mission will launch from Cape Canaveral in December of next year and will take 10 years to travel 6 billion miles. It is likely to get close to the asteroid, but those closest to this particular asteroid will still end up 1 million miles away from the impact site.

NASA is not the only organization interested in the asteroid. It is also up for grabs on the Web. Astronomers at Google and SCDF are also out there chipping away to a list of interesting asteroids to photograph.

If all goes well, NASA’s mission could culminate in one of the most exciting events in human history. But just in case, NASA is advising that we make sure our dog comes to the firing line. There’s never been a land grab on an asteroid and only a handful of missions have successfully been sent to the asteroid.

Image via NASA, Flickr

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