NASA’s DART spacecraft has set its sights on the asteroid Dimorphos that appears as a bright dot in the darkness of space.
Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), a box-shaped space probe, has activated its camera that will capture it traveling at 25,000 miles per hour at 7:14 p.m. ET in an attempt to knock the space rock out of orbit.
Such a mission might bring back memories of a Hollywood disaster movie like Armageddon, but this one is very real and is actually part of the US Space Agency’s first-ever planetary defense test.
The spacecraft will use what is called kinetic impact, which sends one or more large, high-speed spacecraft into the path of an approaching object near Earth.
Launched last November, the craft is nearing the end of its epic journey to the small asteroid Dimorphos, orbiting a larger one called Didymos.
Didymos and Dimorphos are currently closest to Earth in years, passing at a distance of about 6.7 million miles from our planet.
NASA’s DART spacecraft has set its sights on the asteroid Dimorphos appearing as a bright dot in the darkness of space
Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), a box-shaped space probe, has activated its camera that will capture it traveling at 25,000 miles per hour at 7:14 p.m. ET in an attempt to knock the space rock out of orbit
Bill Nelson, NASA’s administrator, said in a November interview that DART “is sort of a rerun of Bruce Willis’ movie ‘Armageddon,’ although that was completely fictional.”
An asteroid the size of Dimorphos could cause continent-wide destruction on Earth, while the impact of an asteroid the size of the larger Didymos would be felt worldwide.
NASA emphasizes that the asteroids in question pose no threat to our home planet, but were chosen because they can be observed with telescopes on Earth here on Earth.
The Double Asteroid Redirection Test was launched last November ahead of a year-long journey to crash into the small asteroid Dimorphos, orbiting a larger one called Didymos.
Telescopes will see and study from afar, including NASA’s new $10 billion James Webb Observatory, while DART will also send images back to Earth at a rate of one per second as it heads toward its “deep impact.”
After the power goes out when the spacecraft explodes, a 30-pound Italian cube released by DART a few days ago will soak up the aftermath and the resulting crater.
Dimorphos currently takes about 11 hours 55 minutes to orbit Didymos, but the impact is expected to reduce this to about 11 hours 45 minutes. Telescope measurements will confirm this in the coming weeks and months.
The theory is that if an asteroid is on a collision course with Earth, you only need to change its speed a little bit to change its path so that it misses us, provided it’s done far enough in advance.
The Rome-based Virtual Telescope Project has also collaborated with several observatories in South Africa and will show the target asteroid in real time at the time of its planned impact.
Brace yourself for impact: NASA’s first-ever “planetary defense” spacecraft — sent to deflect an asteroid 6.8 million miles from Earth — will reach its target on Monday, Sept. 26. The image above shows how the mission will work
Astronomers say anyone who tunes it to watch the impact can observe changes in the asteroid’s brightness as a result of the collision.
Nancy Chabot of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which leads the project, said in a statement, “This isn’t going to destroy the asteroid. It just gives it a little push.’
Dimorphos completes an orbit around Didymos “like clockwork” every 11 hours and 55 minutes, she added.
The goal of DART is a crash that will slow down Dimorphos and cause it to fall closer to the larger asteroid, shaving it off its orbit for 10 minutes.
The change in the orbital period will be measured by telescopes on Earth. The minimum change to consider the mission a success is 73 seconds.
The DART technique could be useful for altering the course of an asteroid years or decades before it crashes to Earth with the potential for catastrophe.
NASA considers any object near Earth “potentially dangerous” if it comes within 0.05 astronomical units (4.6 million miles) and is more than 460 ft in diameter.
More than 27,000 near-Earth asteroids have been cataloged, but none currently pose a threat to our planet.