You could be forgiven for thinking the themes in this month’s episode of Physics World Stories have been stolen from Hollywood. Podcast host Andrew Glester profiles two upcoming NASA missions to asteroids: one that will explore an all-metal world, and the other will deliberately smash into a near-Earth asteroid.
Glester’s first guest is Jim Bell from Arizona State University who is involved in the mission to the asteroid Psyche, which launches in 2022 and arrives in 2026. Located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter with an average diameter of 226 km, Psyche consists largely of metal. Astronomers speculate that the asteroid is the exposed core of an early planet that lost its rocky outer layers due to a number of violent collisions billions of years ago.
The asteroid trillionaires
Also joining the podcast is Angela Stickle from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Stickle is a project scientist in the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, scheduled to launch in November aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Sounding like a remake of Armageddon or Deep Impact, the solar-powered DART craft will hurtle towards the binary near-Earth asteroid Didymos, before crashing into the smaller of the two bodies in late 2022. By observing the changes in the asteroid’s orbit, mission scientists are testing the feasibility of deflecting a large Earth-bound asteroid – should that perilous scenario transpire in the future.