January Monthly Gathering – The D.A.R.T. Mission: NASA Takes A Shot in the Dark

A giant space rock wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Could Earth be hit again? You betcha! Researchers were stunned in July, 2019, when a previously undetected “city killer” asteroid, that was up to 427 feet wide, came within 45,000 miles of Earth — less than one-fifth the distance to the moon. If the asteroid had struck the Earth, it would have gone off like a very large nuclear weapon. 

To date, NASA has classified more than 21,000 asteroids and more than 100 comets as near-Earth objects. Of that group, about 2,000 are considered “potentially hazardous.” Congress has directed NASA to find and track at least 90 percent of the objects that pose a threat to Earth within the next 100 years. But so far, scientists have identified only an estimated 40 percent of near-Earth objects

The “Double Asteroid Redirection Test”, or D.A.R.T., was a NASA space mission aimed at testing a method of planetary defense against near-Earth objects. It was designed to assess how much a spacecraft impact deflects an asteroid through its transfer of momentum when hitting the asteroid head-on. The D.A.R.T. probe was launched from Earth on November 24. 2021, and intentionally crashed into Dimorphos, the minor-planet moon of the asteroid Didymos on September 26, 2022.

To get a detailed, yet readily understandable explanation of the D.A.R.T mission, without first having to take a crash course in astrophysics, please join us via Zoom, at 7:00p.m. (EST) on Saturday, January 21. Our guest speaker will be Dr. Nick Moskowitz, a planetary astronomer at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona.Dr. Moskowitz’s research involves observations and simple models of minor planets in the Solar System. He is particularly interested in exploring relationships between small body populations, such as the link between near-Earth asteroids and meteorites. This work has implications for topics ranging from the origin of planets to the exploration of small bodies by spacecraft. He received his PhD and MS degrees in Astronomy from the University of Hawaii and his BS degree in Physics from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Southeast Michigan Mensa will be presenting a series of lectures via Zoom. Those wishing to attend will need to pre-register at the following link:  https://tinyurl.com/SEMM-0123-Gathering . The event’s Zoom URL and instructions will only be sent to those who are pre-registered.