In order to prepare for massive asteroids that could aim for Earth in the future, researchers should ram a spaceship into a real asteroid to see if the space rock would shift course, scientists say.
The proposal, which was presented Wednesday (Dec. 5) at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, would send two spaceships to deflect a small asteroid in a binary (double asteroid) system coming toward Earth in 2022. One spaceship would crash into the asteroid, hopefully deflecting it, while another would observe the collision.
Their goal is to crash into the smaller rock in a binary asteroid system called Didymos that is projected to travel past Earth in 2022.
"This is the biggest problem for planetary defense," said Andrew Cheng, a physicist at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins, who is proposing the space mission. "There is a risk if we saw an asteroid coming towards us, we wouldn't know if we could do anything about it."
Meteor impacts are rare, but they have devastated Earth several times in the planet's history. For instance, many scientists think a giant meteorite impact caused the massive extinction of the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago.
But while powerful space probes and telescopes can now see asteroids barreling toward Earth from far away, there's no real plan for stopping a giant one from wiping out humanity.