Didymos 65803 is a binary asteroid which has been classified as a potential hazard by NASA – meaning it could crash into Earth in the future. The 775-metre space rock is orbited by a smaller 160-metre-wide moon and has the potential to wipe out a city, according to calculations. However, NASA has teamed up with the European Space Agency (ESA) to come up with a cunning plan to save the planet.
In November, European space ministers are set to back the HERA project – humanity’s first mission to orbit the double asteroid and dispatch two smaller drones – named CubeSats – in an attempt to figure out how to deflect it.
Astrophysicist and Queen guitarist Brian May revealed the plans during a promotional video on their YouTube last month.
He said: “HERA is going to show us things no one has ever seen before.
“This ESA mission will be humanity’s first ever spacecraft to visit a double asteroid – Didymos.
“This asteroid is typical of the thousands that pose an impact risk to our planet.
“Imagine a mountain in the sky with another rock about the size of the Great Pyramid swinging around it.
Dr May went on to reveal some more details about the space rock.
He added: “And just the seemingly tiny moon would be big enough to destroy a city if it were to collide with Earth.
“But we’re going to find out if it’s possible to deflect it.
“This is going to be really, really hard.
“Aiming at a 160-metre-wide target, across millions of kilometres of void.
“Could we stop an asteroid hitting planet Earth?”
Dr May, who has an asteroid named after him, revealed why it is key to find a way to defend our planet.
He continued: “The dinosaur’s couldn’t, but we humans have the benefit of knowledge and science on our side.
“HERA is led by a multinational team of scientists and engineers, humanity’s ‘makers and doers’.
“Right now, all we have is many years of research and theories, but HERA will revolutionise our understanding of asteroids and how to protect ourselves from them.
“First, NASA will slam its DART spacecraft into the smaller asteroid at more than six kilometres a second.
“Then ESA comes in.”
Dr May, who earned a PhD in astrophysics from Imperial College London in 2007, revealed the part ESA will play in the plan.
He added: “HERA will map the impact crater left by DART and measure the asteroid’s mass.
“Knowing this mass is key to determining what’s inside and knowing for certain whether we would be able to deflect it.
Next, come out the briefcase-sized CubeSats.
“If you think of HERA like an airplane, then CubeSats will operate more like drones.”
Dr May revealed how the CubeSats will allow the ESA to take more risks.
He continued: “They are able to take more risks, flying closer to the asteroid and carrying state-of-the-art instruments and eventually touching down.
“The scale of this experiment is huge, one day these results could be crucial for saving our planet.
“HERA’s up-close observation after DART’s impact will help prove whether asteroids can be deflected.
“It will prove whether this is an effective planetary defence technique.”