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An enormous 430ft asteroid is set to hurtle towards Earth's orbital field this week- with NASA's register of space debris claiming that the giant rock is due to make a 'close approach' to our planet.
The gigantic space rock- which is twice as large than Big Ben and slightly bigger than an American football stadium- was discovered by American astronomer Carolyn S. Shoemaker at Palomar Observatory on 28 November 1994, and has since been designated 1994 WR12.
Until 2016 it was listed as an 'Earth Impact Risk' by the JPL Center for NEO Studies (CNEOS), but has since had its threat-level downgraded after further observations.
Astronomers estimate that if WR12 ever were to hit the Earth, it would produce an explosion equivalent to over 77 megatons tons of TNT- over 1 ½ times more powerful than Tsar Bomba, the biggest nuclear weapon that has ever been tested.
However it looks like we're going to be safe this time around, with astronomers predicting that the asteroid will pass the Earth at a distance of approx 3.8 million miles, so don't go reaching for that Armageddon/Deep Impact double-feature just yet.
Just in case things do end up going a bit pear-shaped though, humanity has a new trick up its sleeve to help ward off any dangerous-looking asteroids which may bother us in the future- the DART mission.
DART, or the 'Double Asteroid Redirection Test' to use its full name, 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.
Scientists will shortly be attempting to test DART by firing it at 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.
COMING UP: #DARTMission launch! :rocket:
Our first test of #PlanetaryDefense is set to lift off at 1:21am ET (06:21 UTC) to attempt to change the motion of a non-threatening asteroid. Tune in at 12:30am ET (05:30 UTC) for live coverage: https://t.co/z1RgZwQkWS pic.twitter.com/qiOjrLLquM
- NASA (@NASA) November 24, 2021
If successful scientists will be able to effectively change the orbit of any oncoming space debris, potentially knocking the next big asteroid out of our way before it becomes a major problem.
But regardless of what happens, we won't know about the results for a while- It will take 10 months to travel the 6.8m miles to Dimorphos and the collision is not set to take place until late September or early October 2022.
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