The asteroid 65803 Didymos gets its name from the Greek word for twin. The 775-metre space rock is orbited by a smaller 160-metre-wide moon and is classified as a potential hazard by NASA. However, NASA has teamed up with the European Space Agency (ESA) to combat its potential to crash into Earth.
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 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.
“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.”
The ESA is currently working on improving the planet’s defence from smaller asteroids that could wipe out a city.
Next week, they will launch a new £915,000 telescope called Flyeye which will be able to scan space and identify any possible objects heading to Earth.
The ESA released their plans to the public in a no-nonsense video, which did not spare the niceties and dug straight into what would be a catastrophic situation.
The hypothetical simulation played-out a terrifying scenario, with an asteroid on course to strike Earth in 2028.
The simulation then showed how ESA could save millions of lives.