On Monday, NASA plans to hit an asteroid about 7 million miles from Earth with a 1,000-pound spacecraft in an unprecedented planetary defense test.
If successful, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will be the first-ever spacecraft to deflect an asteroid with a kinetic strike and adjust its speed and flight path.
Here’s what you need to know about DART, which is heading for a collision with the asteroid Dimorphos.
NASA plans to hit Dimorphos around 7 p.m.
NASA will begin live coverage of the event around 6 p.m. ET on Monday. Video coverage will be available on NASA’s social media accounts, including its YouTube page.
DART is estimated to impact Dimorphos around 7:14 p.m. at over 14,000 miles per hour. NASA officials will be able to estimate the results of the strike using ground-based telescopes.
After the event, officials will hold a press conference around 8 p.m. to discuss DART’s mission.
DART is a key test for future threats
NASA has repeatedly stressed that Dimorphos is not a threat to Earth, but the success of the mission is important for the space agency to develop an effective response to any future threat.
If DART is successful, it could shorten Dimorphos’ orbital period by several minutes. After the mission, NASA will apply all lessons learned to future tests designed to prevent a future asteroid from colliding with Earth.
No known asteroids larger than 140 meters in size have a significant chance of impacting Earth in the next 100 years, but scientists have only found around 40% of these asteroids as of October 2021, according to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab (APL), partner of the DART mission.
DART was licensed after a meteor exploded in Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013, creating shockwaves felt in six cities across the country.
NASA has an entire office dedicated to planetary defense: the Planetary Defense Coordination Office.
DART launched in November
The DART spacecraft launched Nov. 23, 2021 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.
The spacecraft weighs 1,345 pounds but consists of a single instrument: the Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for the Optical Navigation System, known as DRACO, which will capture images of Dimorphos and its satellite system. asteroids.
DRACO also helps direct DART flight to Dimorphos with Small Body Maneuvering Autonomous Real-Time Navigation (SMART Nav), an algorithm using DRACO imagery to plot a direct path.
Dimorphos is part of an asteroid system
Dimorphos is part of the binary asteroid system Didymos, which means twin in Greek. The asteroid system is about 7 million miles from Earth.
Technically, Dimorphos is a moon of Didymos, a larger asteroid than Dimorphous orbits in the system.
Dimorphos is 560 feet wide, weighs over 5 billion kilograms, and completes an orbit around its parent asteroid once every 11 hours and 55 minutes.
The two asteroids are about 0.73 miles apart.
A follow-up mission is planned
The European Space Agency (ESA) will send a spacecraft called Hera to the Didymos asteroid system in 2024 to further assess the impact of DART.
In a report, the ESA – which expects Hera to arrive at Didymos in 2026 – said the Hera spacecraft “will also provide important insights into asteroid science and the evolutionary history of our solar system” .