Europe's space agency approves the Hera anti-asteroid mission

Hera will carry two CubeSats that can fly extremely close to the asteroid’s surface before touching down. Those briefcase-sized spacecraft will act like drones, capturing vital data about the impact crater and giving scientists data including the mass of the asteroid that will help them deduce its composition. The aim, ESA said, is to “turn asteroid deflection into a well-understood planetary defense technique.”

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Since Didymoon orbits its larger companion, scientists should be able to measure DART’s effect on its trajectory, even if it’s very small. The smaller asteroid is the size of the Great Pyramid, so it could destroy an entire city if it impacted Earth. However, it’s a pretty tricky mission, because both asteroids are still relatively small and no spacecraft has ever flown to such tiny space bodies before.

While an asteroid collision is a pretty unlikely event, it’s actually preventable, unlike an earthquake or volcanic explosion. “We really need to follow carefully [around 2,000 near-Earth objects] so as not to join the collection of wonderful dinosaurs here in Berlin,” Max Planck Institute researcher Holger Sierks told earlier this month.

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