August 18, 2011
ESA To Attempt Asteroid Smash-up
Scientists from the European Space Agency (ESA) are planning to fire a spacecraft into an asteroid in an attempt to prepare for one that could be on a direct collision course with the Earth.
The news comes after NASA dismissed claims that one was already hurling toward the third rock from the Sun.The plan sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, much like in the film Armageddon, where a ragtag group of oil drillers are sent into space to try to stop an asteroid from destroying Earth.
But in real life, the mission -- called Don Quixote -- will do the job without humans, and will be much less dramatic. The ESA plans to launch two spacecraft, one of which will be fired directly at an asteroid at high speed in an attempt to knock it off its course. The second will analyze data with the goal of informing future missions.
The potential candidate for the mission is a 1,600-foot-wide asteroid named 99942 Apophis, which has a 1/250,000 chance of hitting Earth in 2036.
Scientists from NASA dismissed claims that the comet Elenin, discovered last December, is on a deadly collision course with Earth. Rumors of the collision include the planet being plunged into darkness for three days by blotting out the Sun, actually colliding with Earth, causing tidal dismay and even throwing the planet off orbit.
Other bold claims were that a fleet of UFOs are streaking toward Earth in the comet's wake, and that NASA conspired with media groups to create a news blackout on the comet to avoid mass hysteria from breaking out.
But NASA said Elenin will never come closer than 22 million miles from Earth, and will not affect the planet in any way.
"The truth is that Elenin has received much more attention than it deserves due to a variety of internet postings that are untrue," said an official with NASA.
Image Caption: The moments before impact...The Impactor spacecraft (Hidalgo) heads towards the target asteroid. Credits: ESA - AOES Medialab
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