NASA Unveils Plan To Catch Asteroid As Step To Mars Flight IBTimes UK

At some point, an asteroid will hit Earth and the impact can be cataclysmic, according to an astronomer. Issuing a warning, he states that the planet must prepare for when it comes.

According to BBC News, a Belfast astronomer and a professor at Queens University, Alan Fitzsimmons explains that a heavy-impact Earth-bound asteroid is coming sooner or later. However, it is hard to predict when will it hit the Earth. Therefore, scientists must take measures to prevent disaster before it arrives.

In an attempt to save Earth, the professor has invited amateur astronomers to support the Hera mission. Hera is an initiative by European Space Agency, also known as ESA, that works in line with NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART). It is designed to assess the chances of prevention of asteroid collision with the planet. The mission works to develop techniques to deflect asteroid's orbit before it comes close to Earth.

Speaking with the abovementioned news publication, Fitzsimmons revealed that a "serious asteroid impact" will happen sometime and we must do something about it so that the rock "misses us and doesn't hit us."

However, there is no predicted date or timeline. According to the professor the catastrophe may not even occur in our lifetime, but it is bound to happen sometime.

"We can do as many calculations as we like and we have done on paper but until you try it and check your calculations you don't know if you're going to succeed or not. That's why Hera is so important - it's our test to see whether or not we can shift an asteroid so it doesn't hit Earth," he said.

Named after a Greek Goddess of marriage and birth, the Hera spacecraft is due to be launched in 2024 towards a pair of asteroids called Didymos, potentially hazardous ones. Discovered in 1996, Didymos is a binary nature asteroid that is coming along with a small orbiter that is said to be its moon, Didymoon. ESA's Hera is targeting to analyse the orbital path of the duo and will support NASA's DART in shifting its orbital trajectory.

Meanwhile, Professor Fitzsimmons believes that even amateur astronomers can help the world's two most advanced space agencies in preventing destruction. Therefore, he calls for their support to help Hera as it passes through the asteroid belt for accomplishing its job.

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"Asteroid research is one area of astronomy where amateur observes continue to make an essential contribution," he said. There are many out there both in Ireland, the UK, Europe and around the world who regularly track asteroids and even measure how their brightness changes with time. That's particularly what we're looking for - these advanced amateurs."