NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft is designed to be a one hit wonder. It will end its days by crashing into an asteroid at 24,000 kilometres per hour on September 26. Launched from Earth in November 2021, DART is about the size of a bus and was created to test and prove our ability to defend Earth from a dangerous asteroid.
Landing a direct hit on a target from 11 million kilometres away isn’t easy. But while this sounds far, the asteroid was actually selected by NASA because it is relatively close to Earth. This will give engineers the opportunity to test the spacecraft’s ability to operate itself in the final stages before the impact, as it crashes autonomously.
The target asteroid is called Dimorphos, a body 163 metres in diameter that’s orbiting a 780 metre-wide asteroid called Didymos. This “binary asteroid system” was chosen because Dimorphos is in orbit around Didymos, which makes it easier to measure the result of the impact due to the resulting change in its orbit. However, the Dimorphos system does not currently pose any risk to the Earth.
Regardless, NASA is attempting nothing less than a full scale planetary defence experiment to change an asteroid’s path. The technique being used is called “kinetic impact”, which alters the orbit of the asteroid by crashing into it. That’s essentially what is known as a safety shot in snooker, but played on a planetary level between the spacecraft (as the cue ball) and the asteroid.
A tiny deflection could be sufficient to prove that this technique can actually change the path of an asteroid on a collision path with the Earth.
But the DART spacecraft is going to be completely blown apart by the collision because it will have an impact equivalent to about three tonnes of TNT. In comparison, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was equal to 15,000 tonnes of TNT.
So, with this level destruction and the distance involved, how will we be able to see the crash? Luckily, the DART spacecraft is not travelling alone on its quest, it is carrying LICIACube, a shoebox-size mini spacecraft, known as a cubesat, developed by the Italian Space Agency and aerospace engineering company Argotec. This little companion has recently separated from the DART spacecraft and is now travelling on its own to witness the impact at a safe distance of 55km.
Never before has a cubesat operated around asteroids so this provides new potential ways of exploring space in the future. The impact will also be observed from Earth using telescopes. Combined, these methods will enable scientists to confirm whether the operation has been successful.
It might, however, take weeks for LICIACube to send all images back to Earth. This period will be utterly nerve wracking – waiting for good news from a spacecraft is always an emotional time for an engineer.
What happens next? An investigation team will look at the aftermath of the crash. These scientists will aim to measure the changes in Dimorphos’ motion around Didymos by observing its orbital period. This is the time during which Dimorphos passes in front and behind Didymos, which will happen every 12 hours.
Ground telescopes will aim to capture images of the Dimorphos’ eclipse as this happens. To cause a significant enough deflection, DART must create at least a 73-second orbital period change after impact – visible as changes in the frequencies of the eclipses.
These measurements will ultimately determine how effective “kinetic impact” technology is in deflecting a potentially hazardous asteroid – we simply don’t know yet.
This is because we actually know very little of the asteroids’ composition. The great uncertainty around how strong Dimorphosis is has made designing a bullet spacecraft a truly enormous engineering challenge. Based on ground observation, the Didymos system is suspected to be a rubble-pile made up of lots of different rocks, but its internal structure is unknown.
There are also great uncertainties about the outcome of the impact. Material ejected afterwards will contribute to the effects of the crash, providing an additional force. We don’t know whether a crater will be formed by the impact or if the asteroid itself will suffer major deformation, meaning we can’t be sure how much force the collision will unleash.
Future missions Our exploration of the asteroid system does not end with DART. The European Space Agency is set to launch the Hera mission in 2024, arriving at Didymos in early 2027 to take a close look at the remaining impact effects.
By observing the deformations caused by the DART impact on Dimorphos, the Hera spacecraft will gain a better understanding of its composition and formation. Knowledge of the internal properties of objects such as Didymos and Dimorphos will also help us better understand the danger they might pose to Earth in the event of an impact.
Ultimately, the lessons from this mission will help verify the mechanics of a high-velocity impact. While laboratory experiments and computer models can already help validate scientists’ impact predictions, full-scale experiments in space such as DART are the closest we will get to the whole picture. Finding out as much as we can about asteroids will help us understand what force we need to hit them with to deflect them.
The DART mission has led to worldwide cooperation among scientists hoping to address the global issue of planetary defence and, together with my colleagues on the DART investigation team, we aim to analyse the impact effects. My own focus will be on studying the motion of the material that is ejected from the impact.
The spacecraft impact is scheduled for September 26 at 19:14 Eastern Daylight Time (00:14 British Summer Time on September 27). You can follow the impact on NASA TV.
Asteroid 2023 BU Made Fourth Closest Approach to Earth
There are hundreds of millions of asteroids in our solar system, which means new asteroids are discovered quite frequently. It also means close encounters between asteroids and Earth are fairly common. Some of these close encounters end up with the asteroid impacting Earth, occasionally with severe consequences.
A recently discovered asteroid, named 2023 BU, has made the news because today it passed very close to Earth.
Discovered on January 21 by amateur astronomer Gennadiy Borisov in Crimea, 2023 BU passed only about 3,600 km from the surface of Earth (near the southern tip of South America) six days later on January 27.
That distance is just slightly farther than the distance between Perth and Sydney and is only about 1 percent of the distance between Earth and our Moon.
The asteroid also passed through the region of space that contains a significant proportion of the human-made satellites orbiting Earth.
All this makes 2023 BU the fourth-closest known asteroid encounter with Earth, ignoring those that have impacted the planet or our atmosphere.
How does 2023 BU rate as an asteroid and a threat? 2023 BU is unremarkable, other than that it passed so close to Earth. The diameter of the asteroid is estimated to be just 4–8m, which is on the small end of the range of asteroid sizes.
There are likely hundreds of millions of such objects in our solar system, and it is possible 2023 BU has come close to Earth many times before over the millennia. Until now, we have been oblivious to the fact.
In context, on average a 4-metre-diameter asteroid will impact Earth every year and an 8-metre-diameter asteroid every five years or so Asteroids of this size pose little risk to life on Earth when they hit because they largely break up in the atmosphere. They produce spectacular fireballs, and some of the asteroids may make it to the ground as meteorites.
Now that 2023 BU has been discovered, its orbit around the Sun can be estimated and future visits to Earth predicted. It is estimated there is a 1 in 10,000 chance 2023 BU will impact Earth sometime between 2077 and 2123.
So, we have little to fear from 2023 BU or any of the many millions of similar objects in the Solar System.
Asteroids need to be greater than 25m in diameter to pose any significant risk to life in a collision with Earth; to challenge the existence of civilisation, they’d need to be at least a kilometre in diameter.
It is estimated there are fewer than 1,000 such asteroids in the Solar System and could impact Earth every 5,00,000 years. We know about more than 95 per cent of these objects.
Will there be more close asteroid passes? 2023 BU was the fourth closest pass by an asteroid ever recorded. The three closer passes were by very small asteroids discovered in 2020 and 2021 (2021 UA, 2020 QG and 2020 VT).
Asteroid 2023 BU and countless other asteroids have passed very close to Earth during the nearly five billion years of the Solar System’s existence, and this situation will continue into the future.
What has changed in recent years is our ability to detect asteroids of this size, such that any threats can be characterised. That an object roughly 5m in size can be detected many thousands of kilometres away by a very dedicated amateur astronomer shows that the technology for making significant astronomical discoveries is within reach of the general public. This is very exciting.
Amateurs and professionals can together continue to discover and categorise objects, so threat analyses can be done. Another very exciting recent development came last year, by the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, which successfully collided a spacecraft into an asteroid and changed its direction.
DART makes plausible the concept of redirecting an asteroid away from a collision course with Earth if a threat analysis identifies a serious risk with enough warning.
Google Working on Fast Pair Setup, May Debut on Galaxy S23 Series: Report
Google is reportedly working on the ability to set up an Android phone via the company’s Fast Pair feature. The capability could reportedly debut on a smartphone with the Samsung Galaxy S23 series that is expected to be unveiled by the South Korean conglomerate at its Galaxy Unpacked 2023 event on February 1. The upcoming flagship smartphone series from Samsung is expected to include the vanilla Samsung Galaxy S23, Galaxy S23+, and Galaxy S23 Ultra models.
Fast Pair is a feature that is part of Google Play Services that allows users to set up, connect, and pair new devices like headphones, Wear OS smartwatches, styluses, tracking tags, and other accessories automatically, with a single tap when nearby and turned on. According to a report by 9to5Gooogle, the Fast Pair feature has reportedly been updated by Google to also include support for setting up nearby smartphones.
The updated Fast Pair feature could reportedly debut on Samsung‘s upcoming flagship smartphone series, the Samsung Galaxy S23. With the Fast Pair feature enabled on an Android device, it could detect nearby devices that are compatible with Fast Pair including another Android smartphone and other accessories, as per the report. On detection of the specific device that is nearby, the feature will automatically redirect users to the process to install the relevant steps that need to be followed to move data between the two devices.
With nearby Android smartphones also being supported on Fast Pair, and reportedly featuring on the Samsung Galaxy S23 series, the smartphones in the series could detect nearby Android devices and prompt users to install the Samsung Smart Switch app that allows users to transfer data between two devices, according to the report.
The feature could end up making the setup process for a new Samsung Galaxy S23 series smartphone easier than ever, but there is currently no information on whether the older and newer device will both need support for the updated Fast Pair feature.
9to5Google accessed details from a recent version of the Google Play Services application that seems to suggest that Google is preparing to debut Android’s new Fast Pair feature on the Samsung Galaxy S23 series. The South Korean conglomerate recently opened pre-reservations for the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S23 series in India, along with several other countries.
However, it is important to note that neither Google nor Samsung has confirmed plans to update the Fast Pair feature or the inclusion of such a feature on the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S23 series, respectively.
Watch Boston Dynamics’ Atlas Robot Grab, Throw Objects Just Like a Human
Boston Dynamics has unveiled the latest version of its Atlas Robot that is capable of improved human-like movement and actions. The Waltham, Massachusetts-based robot firm, showed off the humanoid robot with grippers while displaying its capabilities via a video posted to YouTube. The robot is seen performing complex actions such as grabbing and throwing an object, navigating complex terrain while holding another object.
In the video posted on Boston Dynamics’ YouTube channel, the company’s Atlas Robot is seen navigating a challenging environment while walking on two legs mimicking human motion. The Atlas Robot is also seen grabbing hold of a plank and jumping to spin around, carrying it and placing it to create a bridge to walk between two platforms, all while holding onto a toolkit.
The Atlas Robot is then seen walking across the platform bridge it created, tossing up the toolkit to the person on top of the scaffolding. The executed manoeuvre is being referred to by Boston Dynamics as an inverted 540-degree, multi-axis flip.
After successfully passing the toolkit along to the human on the ledge above, the Atlas Robot then theatrically proceeds to do a perfectly executed backflip while still on the thin platform.
The demonstration shows how humanoid robots such as the Atlas could potentially replace humans in performing tasks that involve risk of life and injury when performed by humans.
Recently, Boston Dynamics and IBM were seen collaborating to deploy robot dogs at the US National Grid sites for the purpose of autonomous inspection. The robotic dogs named Spot, are integrated by artificial intelligence (AI) developed by IBM Research and being deployed at the electric and gas utility sites in Massachusetts and New York for regular inspections.
However, Boston Dynamics’ creative foray into deploying robots in real-life situations and applications hasn’t always been smooth. The company faced backlash for selling Spot to local police departments, including the NYPD, leading to the NYPD cancelling the arrangement.
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