Asteroids v Earth: Meet the Belfast scientist helping keep us safe

A scientist once described as “the rockstar of space” in Northern Ireland is working on an international mission to keep Earth safe from asteroids.

Professor Alan Fitzsimmons from Queen’s University Belfast is working alongside NASA and the European Space Agency on a special mission.

“The project I’m involved in is one of planetary defence,” Professor Fitzsimmons told UTV.

“And that involves trying to understand the risk to us posed by asteroids and comets that might hit us in future, and trying to prevent it if possible.”

New technology in the form of the NASA Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission will be launched into space later this year aimed at intercepting the Didymos asteroid system.

It will do so, not by targeting asteroid Didymos itself, but its smaller moon called Dimorphos - changing its orbit.

While the asteroids involved in the specific mission pose no risk to the planet, the experiments are key to future safety.

World Asteroid Day is held on 30 June each year in recognition of the last major asteroid strike on Earth, way back in 1908, and Professor Fitzsimmons hopes to help prevent history repeating itself.