Big bang theory: ESA’s Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM), a candidate mission due for launch in 2020. Credit: ESA–ScienceOffice.org

Big bang theory: ESA’s Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM), a candidate mission due for launch in 2020.
Credit: ESA–ScienceOffice.org

 

They are mean and malicious – and could mess up your day here on Earth.

That said about asteroids, an upcoming “global day of awareness and education” is incoming on June 30 – the anniversary of the 1908 Tunguska impact in Siberia, the largest asteroid hit on Earth in recently recorded history.

The Tunguska incident shattered roughly 800 square miles of forest, the approximate size of a major metropolitan city today.

Tunguska is the only natural disaster that we know how to prevent through early detection, yet less than one percent of asteroids of this size have been detected.

Ready, AIM, fire!

Over the years, many ideas have been “floated” on how best to deal with a menacing asteroi8d that has Earth’s name on it.

For example, engineers recently began the preliminary design of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM) concept.

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Asteroid Impact Mission concept, currently under study, would be humanity’s first mission to a binary asteroid: the 2,624 feet (800 meter) diameter Didymos is accompanied by a 558 feet (170 meter) diameter secondary body. Credit: ESA–ScienceOffice.org

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Asteroid Impact Mission concept, currently under study, would be humanity’s first mission to a binary asteroid: the 2,624 feet (800 meter) diameter Didymos is accompanied by a 558 feet (170 meter) diameter secondary body.
Credit: ESA–ScienceOffice.org

That mission could involve some four different spacecraft. AIM is tasked to encounter and chart the Didymos double asteroid — the binary asteroid system of Didymos and its moon — and then witness it being struck by another spacecraft, returning data to help guide planetary defense strategies.

AIM workers are now busy at work sketching out details. The chosen concept will be presented to ESA’s Council of Ministers in November 2016 for possible approval.

 

Double trouble

If approved, the mission concept would then become an actual ESA mission. From there, it’s translating artwork and computer-aided design drawings into reality.

AIM must be in position before late 2022 when NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, is planned to crash into the asteroid’s moon for detailed before-and-after impact monitoring.

These observations will help determine how far the DART kinetic impactor has moved the rocky world.

The two missions together are components of an international collaboration on an asteroid-deflection demonstration mission called the Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment (AIDA).

Wake-up call: The 2013 incoming space rock over Chelyabinsk, Russia. Credit: Alex Alishevskikh

Wake-up call: The 2013 incoming space rock over Chelyabinsk, Russia.
Credit: Alex Alishevskikh

Global cooperation

“We are delighted that ESA has completed their AIM Pre-Phase-A study, and decided to officially move on to Phase-A concept definition,” says Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Executive.

“Our own DART mission is scheduled to initiate its Phase-A study in a few months,” Johnson adds.

The bottom line is that such a combined mission of AIM and DART would make the joint AIDA mission “the world’s first attempt to demonstrate that international space agencies working together could protect the Earth from an asteroid impact,” ESA points out.

Tunguska: The largest recent impact event.  Credit: Leonid Kulik Expedition

Tunguska: The largest recent impact event.
Credit: Leonid Kulik Expedition

Tune-in time

While policy, technology and international cooperation work their respective ways, tune into Asteroid Day at the California Academy of Sciences.

To be held on June 30, the event includes asteroid experts and astronauts speaking at the event, as well as individuals signing the 100X Declaration showing their support for increased public education and early detection of asteroids.

It will be Webcast at: www.asteroidday.org

The hosts are the B612 Foundation and California Academy of Sciences.

Also highlighted on Asteroid Day are additional videos from more than 50 worldwide events.

Follow Asteroid Day on Twitter: #AsteroidDay @AsteroidDay and Facebook:

www.facebook.com/AsteroidDay

Leave a Reply

Griffith Observatory Event