NASA’s DART mission prepares to collide with an asteroid

(CNN) – A NASA spacecraft that will deliberately collide with an asteroid approaching its target.

The DART mission, or the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, will encounter the space rock on September 26, 10 months after its launch.

The spacecraft will collide with the asteroid’s moon to see how it affects the movement of the asteroid in space. Beginning at 5:30 p.m. Miami time that day, a live feed of the spacecraft’s images will be available on NASA’s website. The impact is expected to occur around 7:14 p.m. Miami time.

The mission targets Demorphos, a small moon orbiting the near-Earth asteroid Didymos. NASA officials have said that the asteroid system poses no threat to Earth, making it an ideal target for kinetic impact testing, which may be necessary if an asteroid is on its way to colliding with Earth.

This event will be the agency’s first large-scale demonstration of an asteroid deflection technology that could protect the planet.

“For the first time, we will measurably change the orbit of a celestial body in the universe,” said Robert Brown, head of the space exploration sector at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory.

NEOs are asteroids and comets that have orbits that place them within 30 million miles of Earth. Detecting the threat of near-Earth objects, or NEOs, that can cause significant damage, is a primary goal of NASA and other space organizations around the world.

Light from the asteroid Didymos funded by Demorphos in a composite of 243 images taken by Draco on July 27.

How will the impact of the asteroid collision?

Didymus was discovered by astronomers more than two decades ago. It means “twin” in Greek, which is a reference to how the asteroid formed a binary system with a smaller asteroid or moon. Didymos has a diameter of approximately 0.8 kilometers.

Meanwhile, Dimorphos has a diameter of 160 meters, and its name means “two forms”.

The spacecraft recently captured its first look at Didymos using an instrument called the Didymos Camera for Optical Navigation and Reconnaissance, or Draco. It was about 20 million miles from the binary asteroid system when the images were taken in July.

On the day of impact, Draco’s images will not only reveal the first glimpse of Demorphos, but the spacecraft will use it to navigate autonomously as it encounters the young moon.

During the event, these images will be sent back to Earth at a rate of one per second, providing a “very cool” look at the Moon, said Nancy Chabot, a planetary scientist and head of DART coordination at the Applied Physics Laboratory.

At the moment of collision, Didymus and Demorphos will be relatively close to Earth, about 11 million km away.

The spacecraft will accelerate to about 15,000 miles per hour when it collides with the Dimorphos.

Its goal is to collide with Dimorphos to alter the movement of the asteroid through space, according to NASA. This collision will be recorded by LICIACube (Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids), a cube-shaped satellite provided by the Italian Space Agency.

A briefcase-sized CubeSat with DART traveled into space. It was recently posted from the spacecraft as it travels behind it to record what’s happening.

Three minutes after the collision, the CubeSat will fly alongside Dimorphos to capture photos and videos. The video will not be available immediately, but will be transmitted to Earth in the weeks and months following the impact.

The illustration shows NASA’s DART spacecraft and the Italian Space Agency’s LICIACube before colliding with Dimorphos. (Credit: Steve Gribbin/Johns Hopkins ABL/NASA)

protect the planet

Dimorphos were chosen for this mission because their size is familiar with the size of asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth. The spacecraft is about 100 times smaller than Demorphos, so it won’t destroy the asteroid.

A quick collision would only change the speed of Dimorphos in its orbit around Didymos by 1%, which doesn’t seem like much, but it will change the orbital period of the Moon.

“Sometimes we describe it as a golf cart that hit a big pyramid or something,” Chabot said. “But in the case of Demorphos, it’s really about deflecting the asteroid, not disrupting it. It won’t blow up the asteroid, it won’t blow it up.”

Chabot said the thrust would displace Demorphos a bit and make it more bound to Didymus’ gravity, so the collision wouldn’t alter the binary system’s trajectory around Earth or increase its chances of becoming a threat to our planet.

Dimorphos completes one turn around Didymus every 11 hours 55 minutes. After the effect, it is possible for it to change to 11 hours and 45 minutes, but follow-up notes will determine the extent of the change.

Astronomers will use ground-based telescopes to look at the binary asteroid system and see how much the orbital period of Demorphos has changed, which will determine whether or not DART was successful.

Space telescopes, such as Hubble, Webb, and NASA’s Lucy mission will also monitor the event.

Four years from now, the European Space Agency’s Hera mission will arrive to study Dimorphos, measure the moon’s physical properties, and monitor the effect of DART and the moon’s orbit.

At the moment, there are no asteroids on a direct impact path with Earth, but there are more than 27,000 near-Earth asteroids of all shapes and sizes.

The valuable data collected by DART and Hera will contribute to planetary defense strategies, especially understanding what kind of force could replace the orbit of a near-Earth asteroid that could collide with our planet.

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