The NASA spacecraft that will deliberately crash into an asteroid is getting closer to its goal.
The DART, or Double Asteroid Redirection Test, mission will have an encounter with the space rock on September 26, 10 months after its launch.
The spacecraft will crash into an asteroid’s moon to see how it affects the asteroid’s motion in space. Starting at 05:30 p.m. of Miami that day, a live broadcast of the images captured by the spacecraft will be accessible on the NASA website. The impact is expected to occur around 7:14 p.m. Miami time.
The mission targets Dimorphos, a small moon orbiting the near-Earth asteroid Didymos. The asteroid system poses no threat to Earth, NASA officials have said, making it a perfect target for testing a kinetic impact, which might be necessary if an asteroid is on its way to collide with Earth.
NASA’s DART mission prepares to collide with an asteroid
The event will be the agency’s first large-scale demonstration of asteroid deflection technology that can protect the planet.
“For the first time, we will measurably change the orbit of a celestial body in the universe,” said Robert Braun, head of the Space Exploration Sector at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
Near-Earth objects are asteroids and comets with orbits that place them within 30 million miles of Earth. Detecting the threat of near-Earth objects, or NEOs, that could cause serious damage is a primary goal of NASA and other space organizations around the world.
What will the impact of the collision with the asteroid be like?
Astronomers discovered Didymos more than two decades ago. Means “twin” in Greek, a nod to how the asteroid forms a binary system with the smaller asteroid or moon. Didymos is almost 0.8 kilometers in diameter.
Meanwhile, Dimorphos is 160 meters in diameter, and its name means “two forms”.
The spacecraft recently caught its first look at Didymos using an instrument called the Didymos Optical Navigation and Reconnaissance Camera, or DRACO. It was about 20 million miles from the binary asteroid system when it took the images in July.
On impact day, the images taken by DRACO will not only reveal our first glimpse of Dimorphos, but the spacecraft will use them to autonomously navigate its encounter with the small moon.
During the event, these images will be beamed back to Earth at a rate of one per second, providing a “pretty impressive” look at the moon, said Nancy Chabot, a planetary scientist and DART coordination lead at the Applied Physics Laboratory.
At the moment of impact, Didymos and Dimorphos will be relatively close to Earth, about 11 million kilometers away.
The spacecraft will accelerate to about 15,000 miles per hour when it collides with Dimorphos.
Its goal is to collide with Dimorphos to change the asteroid’s motion in space, according to NASA. This collision will be recorded by LICIACube (Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids), a companion cube satellite provided by the Italian Space Agency.
The briefcase-sized CubeSat traveled with DART into space. It has recently been deployed from the spacecraft and is traveling behind it to record what is happening.
Three minutes after impact, the CubeSat will fly alongside Dimorphos to capture images and video. The video will not be available immediately, but will be transmitted to Earth in the weeks and months following the collision.