NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft will collide with an asteroid on Monday (Sept. 26), in the first-ever test of humanity’s ability to deflect life-threatening asteroids before colliding with Earth.
The 1,210-pound (550 kilograms) DART craft, a crouched cube-shaped probe consisting of sensors, an antenna, an ion thruster and two 28-foot-long (8.5 meters) solar panels, will impact the asteroid Dimorphos while traveling at about 13,420 mph (21,160 km/h).
The probe’s test goal is to slow the orbit of the 525-foot-wide (160 m) Dimorphos around its larger partner — the 1,280-foot-wide (390 m) asteroid Didymos. Neither asteroid poses a threat to Soil, as they will be more than seven million miles from our planet at the time of DART’s impact, but NASA scientists want to use the test to explore how a more dangerous asteroid could one day be pushed off its deadly collision course. DART will collide with Dimorphos Monday at 7:14 p.m. ET, with live coverage set to begin at 6 p.m. ET on NASA TV.
Related: What happened when the dinosaur-killing asteroid hit Earth?
“Our DART spacecraft will strike an asteroid in humanity’s first attempt to alter the motion of a natural celestial body,” said Tom Statler, a scientist on NASA’s planetary defense team, at a Sept. mission. “It will be a truly historic moment for the whole world.”
DART began its journey to Didymos and Dimorphos 10 months ago aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, but its roots go back further. In the early 2000s, scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) proposed another asteroid impact test, named after Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes’ 16th-century literary knight known for pointlessly charging windmills. The quixotic mission was never completed. In 2011, the ESA agreed to work with NASA on a joint deflection mission, the Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM). AIM was later split into NASA’s DART and ESA’s Hera missions; the first to collide with Dimorphos on Monday and the second to be launched in 2026 to study the aftermath of the crash.
Scientists expect the test will slow Dimorphos’ orbit by about 1% and bring it closer to the orbit along with Didymos. The mission will be considered a success if it slows Dimorphos’ 12-hour orbit by 73 seconds, but the real change could be as long as 10 minutes.
Because the DART craft will be destroyed on impact, the onboard Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical Navigation (DRACO) can only capture second-by-second images of the orbiter’s final moments before colliding with Dimorphos. To get a better idea of the outcome right away, the scientists will turn to the Italian space agency’s LICIACube — a smaller “cubesat” spacecraft that split from the DART on Sept. 11. km), the LICIACube will send back to Earth photos of the orbit-changing impact and the plume of material flung out by the crash.
“There will be an impact that will change the trajectory; a crater will form; and then there will be ejecta that will propagate through space, and LICIACube will photograph this,” Stavro Ivanovski, a researcher at the Italian Institute of Space Astrophysics and Planetology and a member of the LICIACube team, said at a press conference on Sept. 19.
Also, some observatories on the ground will witness the impact; NASAs James Webb Space Telescope and Hubble Space Telescope; and the agency’s Lucy spacecraft. Their observations will be vital to scientists who want to understand how much force it takes to successfully reroute an asteroid.
NASA isn’t the only space agency looking to develop its asteroid-orbiting capabilities; China’s National Space Administration is also in the early planning stages of an asteroid bypass mission. China says it will smash 23 of its 992-ton (900 metric tons) long March 5 rockets into the asteroid Bennu by 2026.
Bennu is not as benign as Didymos and Dimorphos (although the threat of a possible impact is more than 150 years in the future). Between 2175 and 2199, the 85.5 million tons (77.5 million metric tons) of space rock will be on track to plunge within 7.5 million km of Earth’s orbit. Although Bennu’s chances of hitting Earth are slim — just 1 in 2,700 — the space rock is as wide as the Empire State Building is tall, meaning any collision with Earth would have a catastrophic impact, triggering giant tsunamis if it were to hit Earth. would land in the ocean, killing millions if it landed in a populated area.
The estimated kinetic energy of Bennu’s impact on Earth is 1,200 megatons, which is about 80,000 times greater than the energy of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. By comparison, the space rock that wiped out the dinosaurs provided about 100 million megatons of energy, Gadgetmasti previously reported.
“[A] A half-mile object is going to create a crater at least three miles in diameter, and it could be six miles in diameter,” Lindley Johnson, the director of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office told the New York Times. “But the devastated area will be much, much wider than that, as much as 100 times the size of the crater. An object [of] The magnitude of Bennu affecting the states on the east coast would virtually devastate things on the coast.”
Originally published on Gadgetmasti.