Scientists are studying how to knock an asteroid that’sheading for Earth out of its orbit. Spanish companyDeimos-Space, in its Don Quixote mission, plans to launch apair of probes called Hidalgo and Sancho towards a far offasteroid. One would hit the asteroid at extremely highspeed, deflecting it slightly from its orbit. The otherwould observe the asteroid and measure what happened to itafter the impact. This would tell scientists how hard theywould have to hit a real the asteroid heading for Earth inorder to deflect it safely.

Deimos plans to finish its study early in 2003. After asuitable test asteroid is selected, Hidalgo will slam intoit at extremely high speed, probably around 10 6 ? miles persecond. Sancho will be orbiting the asteroid at a safedistance to see what happens. If all goes as planned, theasteroid’s orbit will be disturbed in the beginning by onlya few fractions of a millimetre. Sancho will measure thistiny shift and feed the data back to Earth.

Tiny changes in orbit can become much larger over time andDeimos wants to use the experiment to calculate how to knocka dangerous asteroid off course. It would be important tohit the asteroid in just the right place, at just the rightspeed. It would take several months for Hidalgo and Sanchoto reach their target. Whether or not this would workdepends on how much warning we have. At first, astronomersthought the asteroid would hit us 17 years from now, onFebruary 1st, 2019, but now they think the impact will occuron February 1st, 2060.

“This mission would provide, for the first time, a lookinside the asteroids,” says Jose-Antonio Gonzalez ofDeimos-Space. “The results of the experiment would eithervalidate our proposed strategy or might mean we have tothink of other solutions, such as placing a huge solar sailon the asteroid’s surface to use the solar wind to changeits trajectory.”

The ancient Mayans warned us that the world would end on2012?could they have been referring to this asteroid? If so,how did they know about it? Find out from ?GalacticAlignment? by John MajorJenkins,clickhere. Jenkins was on Dreamland August 10.

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