Queen's University expert says NASA Mission will give first proof that technology can prevent asteroid hitting Earth

  • A Queen’s University Belfast Professor has said NASA’s DART mission – which will see a spacecraft deliberately crash into an asteroid tonight – will give us our first proof that technology can prevent a small asteroid from hitting Earth.

    Professor Alan Fitzsimmons is an expert in the observation and measurement of asteroids and comets orbiting our Sun. He has been working in the field of Planetary Defence for over 20 years and is a member of the NASA DART Investigation Team.

    Commenting on the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, Professor Fitzsimmons said: “I've been waiting 20 years to see a Planetary Defence test to be performed. The teams at NASA and APL are doing exactly what we need to do. This will give us our first proof that we have the technology to prevent a small asteroid from hitting Earth.”

    RELATED: Stratoflight and Expleo join forces to take passengers into near space by balloon

    DART will work by hitting the asteroid Dimorphos at over six kilometres per second. That will be enough to slightly change its orbit around the larger asteroid Didymos. Telescopes on Earth will measure that deflection and how much the asteroid's path was changed.

    Talking about how likely it is that an asteroid may one day impact Earth, Professor Fitzsimmons said: “The hit film may have been called Don’t Look Up, but it’s a good job we are. Asteroids the size of Dimorphos or larger hit our planet only once every 35,000 years or so, but we only know what a small fraction of them are. So one could be heading our way in the near future, and smaller asteroids hit us much more frequently.”

    RELATED: The Time is Now for Northern Ireland’s Space Sector

    Professor Fitzsimmons has supported the mission by making telescopic observations of the Dimorphos/Didymos system, including analysing telescope data of the impact itself on Monday night. After DART, his main focus will be the ESA Hera mission, which will arrive at Dimorphos in 2027 to precisely measure what effect DART had on the asteroid.

    The professor concluded: “Once the DART and follow-up Hera mission have been successfully completed, we’ll have a much better idea of how to protect ourselves against a catastrophic impact.”

    Source: Written from a press release.

    About the author

    Aoife is a Sync NI writer with a previous background working in print, online and broadcast media. She has a keen interest in all things tech related. To connect with Aoife feel free to send her an email or connect on LinkedIn.

    Got a news-related tip you’d like to see covered on Sync NI? Email the editorial team for our consideration.

    Sign up now for a FREE weekly newsletter showcasing the latest news, jobs and events in NI’s tech sector.

Share this story