Researchers Hope to Knock Meteor Off Course

Monday, 25 Feb 2013 01:51 PM

By Cyrus Afzali

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After watching the destruction from a meteor blast over Russia, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have stepped up their efforts to create a rocket capable of intercepting far-flung space objects.

The Washington Post reports scientists in the university’s Applied Physics Laboratory have been working on a decade-long, $350 million project that would send a spacecraft to intercept the twin asteroids known as Didymos as they pass 6.5 million miles from Earth in about nine years.

If the interception is successful, it will be the first time a meteor is knocked off course by human intervention.

Andy Cheng, the laboratory’s chief scientist, developed the plan by reviving a previous European effort known as Don Quijote. The project is also supported by NASA and the European Space Agency. If the plan moves forward, NASA would help Cheng’s group fund and launch the rocket in 2021.

Cheng hopes the collision in 2022 with the smaller of the two asteroids will knock it from its path around the larger one, creating what is known as an orbital deflection.

Cheng also stressed that Didymos is not expected to cross Earth, so there is no prospect that the experiment would result in an impact with our planet.

Interest in intercepting space objects has increased following the meteor explosion near Earth that resulted in debris that caused 1,200 injuries and significant property damage near Chelyabinsk, Russia earlier this month. The blast was the largest recorded since 1908 when a meteor destroyed 800 miles of forest in Siberia.

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