NASA is going to crash a $488 million spacecraft into an asteroid. here’s why


In eight days, NASA will deliberately crash a spacecraft into an asteroid as part of a $330 million (A$487.5 million) attempt to alter the asteroid’s trajectory.

It is the world’s first large-scale mission to test Earth’s defense technology against possible asteroid collisions.

So what is the DART mission? And should we be worried about the NASA strike?

Why is NASA doing this?

Space engineers want to learn how to deflect asteroids in case one is discovered on a collision course with Earth.

The DART missionor the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, will help determine if intentionally crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid is an effective way to alter its trajectory.

Reference disaster movies like Don’t Look Up and Armageddon, though astronomers think it’s unlikely such devastation could occur in the near future.

DART is the first life-size mission to test Earth’s defense technology against possible asteroid collisions.

By studying the asteroid’s path after the collision, scientists believe they will better understand how collisions could be used to deflect Earth-bound asteroids and comets.

The DART target, Dimorphos, is 160 meters in diameter and orbits its parent Didymos.(Provided: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL)

What is the name of the asteroid that NASA is going to hit?

The mission aims Dimorphosa small “moonlet” or asteroid orbiting a larger one Near-Earth asteroid named Didymos.

Near-Earth objects are asteroids and comets whose orbits place them within 50 million kilometers of Earth. NASA says detecting the threat of near-Earth objects that could cause serious damage is a priority.

Dimorphos is about 160 meters in diameter and is the smallest thing NASA has ever tried to hit.

The largest asteroid Didymos is about 780 meters in diameter. Its name is the Greek word for “twin”, a nod to how the asteroid forms a binary system with the smaller asteroid.

DART will travel to about 6 kilometers per second when it hits Dimorphos.

When will Dart crash into the asteroid?

monday september 26 at about 7:14 p.m. US time is the scheduled time time (i.e. around 9:14 a.m. on Tuesday, September 27 AEST).

It’s been a 10-month journey for the spacecraft, which, without measuring its two wings of solar panels, is the size of a small car.

Does the asteroid pose a threat?

No, the asteroid poses no threat to Earth.

“This is humanity’s first-ever test of planetary defense,” Bobby Braun, space exploration manager at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, told a news conference.

“Everything about this is a test. It’s being done in a safe way. There’s a 0% chance that this asteroid could head towards Earth, so it’s actually an ideal setup for our science team, for the engineering team…and for those of us around the world to learn and improve through this mission.”

On the day of the impact, the images will return to Earth via images recorded by LICIACube, a small satellite provided by the Italian Space Agency.

The briefcase-sized satellite now moves behind the spacecraft to record the collision.

At the moment of impact, Didymos and Dimorphos will be located in 11 million kilometers to Earth.

Scale DART mission
The diameter of the asteroids compared to the height of the buildings and the length of the DART spacecraft to scale.(ABC: Modified from NASA/Johns Hopkins APL)

What will happen after the impact?

The plan is to fly the DART spacecraft straight into the moon by hitting it hard enough to move its orbital path around the larger asteroid.

After impact, scientists will use ground-based telescopes to observe if Dimophos’ orbit has changed, and by how much.

As for fears of comets and a catastrophic impact with Earth, NASA says there are no known threat to our planet for at least the next 100 years.

The data collected will contribute to planetary defense strategies, in particular understanding the type of force that can shift the orbit of a near-Earth object that could collide with our planet if one were ever discovered.


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