Europe and the US space agencies are trying to protect us from death by asteroids

Sarah Spickernell
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Asteroids pose a threat to humanity's survival
Asteroids pose a threat to humanity's survival (Source: Getty)

It's never the wrong time to remind yourself that millions of asteroids are rushing around us in space, posing a constant threat to human existence. Should one head down and collide with earth, it could lead to such devastating destruction that we would perish, just like the dinosaurs did some 65m years ago.

But the European Space Agency (ESA) and Nasa got together to save the day. Between them, they've set out a plan to try and protect us from deadly asteroids once and for all.

Called the Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment mission (AIDA), their goal is for each space agency to send a spaceship to an asteroid called Didymos and its orbiting moon (known, naturally, as Didymoon), and assessing how much force is needed to hit the moon in the opposite direction to its current path.

The alliance was created three years ago, but we've been waiting for crucial details on when the mission is being put into action. And now, following a speech at the European Planetary Science Congress in France, we have that information – the craft will be launched in 2020, set to arrive at the test site two years later. (Does Bruce Willis know earth will be unprotected from asteroids for the next seven years?)

Read more: Will an asteroid hit the Earth? We should take this fly-by as a warning

Nasa's ship, the snappily-titled Double Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraft, will be responsible for hitting Didymoon, while the European vehicle will map its change in orbit around Didymos, and will monitor the material ejected from the rock's surface following impact.

If they manage it, they'll be onto something – it will mean asteroids, such as the Chelyabinsk meteor that hit Russia in 2013 and injured almost 1,500 people, can be prevented from reaching Earth simply through physical impact with a man-made object.

“To protect Earth from potentially hazardous impacts, we need to understand asteroids much better,” said Patrick Michel, head of the European team, at the congress last month.

AIDA will be the first mission to study an asteroid binary system, as well as the first to test whether we can deflect an asteroid through an impact with a spacecraft.

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