One of the greatest achievements of mankind in 2021 in the field of space research was the undertaking by NASA of the DART mission – a plan to defend the Earth against asteroids that threaten it – says Dr. Kacper Wierzchoś, a 33-year-old Polish astronomer from Lublin, who describes himself as a “hunter comets and asteroids “.
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Kacper Wierzchoś comes from Lublin. He works at the Mount Lemmon Observatory near Tucson, Arizona, on the Catalina Sky Survey research program, which aims to search for asteroids, comets and other potentially dangerous objects close to Earth. It is part of NASA’s planetary defense program. In February 2020, together with Theodor Pruyn, he discovered the so-called a small moon – an asteroid pulled into the orbit of the Earth.
In April last year The Polish astronomer discovered another object, this time a long-period comet – C / 2020 H3 (Wierzchoś), and in September 2021 a second comet – P / 2021 R4 (Wierzchoś). In October 2021, he discovered his third comet P / 2021 U1 (Wierzchoś).
The most important cosmic achievement
When asked what were the most significant cosmic achievements of mankind in the passing 2021, he indicates that NASA undertook the first mission of planetary defense of the Earth against the threatening asteroids – DART.
– The time has come to test new technologies in case an asteroid threatens to collide with our planet in the future. This is an unprecedented mission, the first attempt at a planetary defense on a global scale using an asteroid deflection. The DART probe is now flying towards the 11 million km distant asteroid Didymos and its small moon Dimorphos, which is the target of the impact. According to calculations, it will take place in the fall of 2022. Then NASA will examine changes in its orbit to see if it is an effective method of defending our planet – he explains.
He adds that testing in this year was also of great importance. by the American company SpaceX, another prototype of a launch rocket along with the spacecraft Starship, which will someday transport people and goods to the moon, and also take us to Mars. Now SpaceX is preparing its latest prototype for a historic orbital test flight.
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Are we threatened by asteroids?
The scientist also explains whether humanity can be threatened by any asteroid. – Indeed, there are asteroids that pose a great challenge for us, because they are much more difficult to see when heading towards the Earth from the sun. We look for asteroids by taking photos of the sky sections and compose a quick movie, a “gif”, from them. If anything in this video is moving, it’s an asteroid or a comet because the stars are not moving. Of course, such work is only possible at night – he explains.
He explains that the famous Chelyabinsk meteor – the largest known space object to have collided with the Earth since the Tunguska disaster in 1908 – came from the sun, was not spotted and crashed in the region of the Russian Chelyabinsk oblast in 2013. – Although the meteor broke more than 29 km above the Earth’s surface, the strong shock wave caused significant losses – injuries to 1,500 people and damage to more than 7,500 buildings. The force of the explosion was equivalent to the explosion of 30 atomic bombs, each with the power of a charge dropped on Hiroshima. It is because of such asteroids that we cannot sleep at the Mount Lemmon Observatory. During the year, we discover almost 1.5 thousand. asteroids that are getting closer to Earth, he says.
However, according to NASA, it is out of the question that any known asteroid will hit Earth in the next 100 years. – I want to emphasize that the Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) program in which I work is currently the largest program of searching for Near Earth Objects (NEOs). This is a NASA-funded planetary defense project. We currently use four telescopes to detect and study the orbits of NEOs. So far, we know 26 782 NEOs, and CSS detected 47 percent. of them – the scientist reassures.
He adds that new methods of detecting near-Earth asteroids are currently being worked on. In 2026, NASA is to launch a space telescope that will be able to show 90 percent. objects with a diameter greater than 140 m. And if the DART mission is successful, we will have a way to protect all of humanity from the threat of asteroids.