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A 430-foot asteroid designated 1994 WR12 is set to smash though Earth’s orbital path early next week, according to NASA's register of all space debris making a "close approach" to our planet.
The monster space rock, slightly larger than an American football field, was discovered by American astronomer Carolyn S. Shoemaker at Palomar Observatory on 28 November 1994.
Until 2016, it was listed as an Earth Impact Risk by the JPL Center for NEO Studies (CNEOS), but after multiple observation it was removed from their Sentry List.
NASA astronomers estimate that if 1994 WR12 were to hit the Earth, the impact would produce energy with the equivalent of 77 megatons of TNT – 1½ times as powerful as the Tsar Bomba, the biggest nuclear weapon ever tested.
We’re safe for now, though, 1994 WR12 is expected to pass the Earth at a distance of 3.8 million miles on Monday.
It’s inevitable that a large asteroid will enter the Earth’s atmosphere sooner or later though. When that happens, Professor Alan Duffy, director of the Space Technology and Industry Institute, has an important piece of advice: “Don’t look at it.”
Speaking to the I’ve Got News For You, he said: "I would say the best advice is, for goodness sake, do not look at this thing.
"I mean, it‘s going to be hard not to – the brightness of the glare from these objects burning up in the atmosphere.
"That‘s actually what caused a lot of the injuries in Chelyabinsk (a meteor strike in Russia in 2013), people not unreasonably looked up at this enormous burning fireball in the sky, whose brightness was essentially that of the Sun by the time it finally erupted, that caused a lot of retina damage – so make sure you’re not looking right at it.”
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What might save humanity, though, is the DART mission.
DART, or to give it its full name the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, is the first test of a new technology to prevent future asteroid collisions of the type that ended the age of the dinosaurs.
DART is designed to “punch” an asteroid off course. It’s the first demonstration of a “kinetic impactor technique” – essentially a high-powered gun – which is designed to change the motion of an asteroid in space.
DART will attempt to intercept 65803 Didymos, a near-Earth asteroid which is orbited by a tiny “moonlet” called Dimorphos. The 55-foot wide mini-moon will be struck by DART, which weighs almost 80 stone, at a speed of almost 15,000mph.
If successful, scientists will be able to detect a change in the space rock’s orbit. But we won’t know for a while.
It will take 10 months to travel the 6.8m miles to Dimorphos and the collision will not take place until late September or early October 2022
- Spaced Out
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