The prospect of an asteroid hitting the Earth is a genuine concern for many scientists and policymakers. These films allow audiences to consider the potential consequences of such an event in a fictional context.
But is it possible for an asteroid hit the Earth? And if one does, what do we do? Are we doomed to perish if an asteroid hits us, or do we already have the technology to defend our planet as they do in the movies?
Most asteroids are relatively small and do not pose a significant threat to the Earth. An estimated 15,000 of them, broken down into meteorites, enter our atmosphere yearly. However, a small number of larger asteroids could cause significant damage if they hit the Earth. Thankfully, efforts are underway to track and monitor asteroids and understand their characteristics, which can help mitigate potential risks.
NASA's Dawn mission, launched in 2007, was one such endeavor. The Dawn spacecraft traveled to Vesta and Ceres, the two largest objects in the asteroid belt. It spent the next 11 years traveling in space and studying the surface and composition of both asteroids. When the mission ended in 2018, it was declared a success and helped to advance our understanding of the early solar system.
There is also NASA and the European Space Agency's DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) spacecraft mission, which studies the feasibility of using a spacecraft to deflect any asteroid on a collision course with Earth. The task is vital in developing the capability to protect Earth from potentially hazardous asteroids and will provide valuable data and insights for future asteroid deflection efforts.
The DART spacecraft is designed to intercept an asteroid and use the momentum of the collision to alter the asteroid's orbit. The mission will test whether this technique, known as a kinetic impactor, can deflect an asteroid and prevent it from hitting the Earth.
There are more efforts in the pipeline, but whether any of them will work remains to be seen. Hopefully, we won't have to find out.
Directed by: Thomas Lucas