Spacecraft crushing asteroids is just days away from reaching its target

Spacecraft crushing asteroids is just days away from reaching its target

It’s finally going to happen. After about a year of anticipation surrounding NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), the mission will be conducted Monday evening when the spacecraft is expected to crash into its target asteroid.

NASA said Thursday that the mission — the world’s first to test technology for defending the planet from potentially dangerous asteroids or comets — will hit its target asteroid at about 7:14 p.m. ET.

How to watch NASA send a spacecraft to intentionally crash into a 525 foot wide asteroid at 15,000 mph

The spacecraft being tested will be directly in the moon of 525 feet, called Dimorphos, from the nearby asteroid Didymos. The size of Dimorphos is “more typical of the size of asteroids” that would most likely pose a significant threat to Earth, NASA previously said. It’s a quick job with the spacecraft set to crash into the asteroid at just under 15,000 mph — faster than a bullet and fast enough to change the moon’s speed by a fraction of 1%, NASA said.

Neither Dimorphos nor Didymos currently pose a threat to Earth. According to NASA, there is no known asteroid larger than 140 meters (459 feet) with a “significant chance” of hitting Earth in the next century. By October 2021, however, only about 40% of those asteroids have been found.

Illustration of how the impact of DART will change the orbit of Dimorphos around Didymos.  Telescopes on Earth will be able to measure the change in Dimorphos' orbit to evaluate the effectiveness of the DART impact.  / Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

Illustration of how the impact of DART will change the orbit of Dimorphos around Didymos. Telescopes on Earth will be able to measure the change in Dimorphos’ orbit to evaluate the effectiveness of the DART impact. / Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

“We’re testing to see if you can make an impact with an asteroid and it changes its orbit in case we ever find an asteroid on its way to Earth,” said Karen Fox, NASA’s senior science communications officer Thursday.

Katherine Calvin, NASA chief scientist and senior climate consultant, said the agency is looking at asteroids to better understand the history of the solar system and Earth, but also “to make sure we don’t find ourselves in their path.”

“Asteroid impacts have also had profound effects on Earth,” she said. “They’ve changed ecosystems and led to species extinction. The dinosaurs didn’t have a space program to help them know what was coming, but we did, so DART represents an important advance in understanding how potential hazards in the future and how we can protect our planet from potential impact.”

NASA planetary defense officer Lindley Johnson said that while DART is an “exciting time”, it is also monumental to the “history of mankind”.

“This demonstration is extremely important for our future here on Earth and life on Earth,” he said.

Telescopes on every continent on Earth, as well as the Hubble and James Webb space telescopes, will observe the impact of the mission, DART program scientist Tom Statler said.

The agency will give a briefing on the test on Monday at 6 pm and organize another one after the impact at 8 pm

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