WASHINGTON: NASA will attempt a feat that humanity has never accomplished before: intentionally crash a spacecraft into an asteroid and slightly shift its orbit, destroying cosmic objects on Earth. In a key test of our ability to prevent
The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft was launched from California last November and is rapidly approaching its target, which it will strike at about 14,000 miles (22,500 km) per hour.
To be sure, neither the asteroid moon Dimorphos, nor its big brother, called Didymos, poses any threat as the pair hurtles toward the Sun, which is about seven million miles from Earth. But passes close by.
But NASA has deemed the experiment important before any real need is discovered.
If all goes according to plan, impact between the car-sized spacecraft and 530 feet (160 meters, or two Statues of Liberty) should occur at 7:14 p.m. Eastern Time (2314 GMT), and can be followed. NASA Live Stream.
By hitting Demorphos head-on, NASA hopes to push it into a smaller orbit, cutting ten minutes off the time it takes to orbit Didymos, which is currently 11 hours and 55 minutes — a change that would be similar to Earth's. It will be detected in these days through telescopes. Follow up.
The proof-of-concept experiment will make reality that has only been attempted in science fiction before - notably films like Armageddon and Don't Love Up.
Flying autonomously for the final phase of the mission, the spacecraft propels itself into space, its camera system to begin beaming the first images of Dimorphos.
Minutes later, a toaster-sized satellite called LICIACube, which separated from DART a few weeks ago, will fly past the site to take pictures of the collision and the ejecta.
LICIACube images will be sent back in the coming weeks and months.
Also watching the event: an array of telescopes, both on the ground and in space — including the recently operational James Webb — that can see the glowing dust cloud.
Finally, a complete picture of what the system looks like will emerge when a European Space Agency mission called Hera arrives four years later to survey the surface of Dimorphos and measure its mass. Currently, scientists can only guess.