NASA’s DART mission will slam into an asteroid’s moon today | CNN

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A NASA spacecraft will intentionally hit an asteroid on Monday, and it’s all in the name of planetary safety.

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The DART mission, or Double Asteroid Redirect Test, will hit the space rock at 7:14 p.m. ET after launching 10 months ago.

The spacecraft will attempt to influence the motion of an asteroid in space. A live stream of the images taken by the spacecraft will be available on NASA website Starting at 6 p.m. ET.

The mission is headed toward Dimorphos, a small moon orbiting the near-Earth asteroid Didymos. The asteroid system poses no threat to Earth, NASA officials have said, making it an ideal target to test a kinetic impact – which might be needed when an asteroid is on track to hit Earth.

The event will be the agency’s first full-scale demonstration of deflection technology that can protect the planet.

“For the first time, we will measure 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. in Laurel, Maryland.

Near-Earth objects are asteroids and comets whose orbits lie within 30 million miles (48.3 million kilometers) of Earth. Threat detection of near-Earth objects, or NEOs, that can cause serious damage is a primary focus of NASA and other space organizations around the world.

Astronomers discovered Didymos more than two decades ago. It means “twin” in Greek. Didymos is approximately 2,560 feet (780 m) across.

Meanwhile, Dimorphos is 525 feet (160 m) in diameter, and its name means “two forms.”

Images taken by the spacecraft’s Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical Navigation will provide a first look at Dimorphos. The spacecraft will also use them to autonomously guide the encounter with the smaller moon.

During the event, these images will flow back to Earth at a rate of one per second, providing a “pretty surprising” look at the Moon, said Nancy Chabot, planetary scientist and DART coordinating chief at the Applied Physics Laboratory.

At the time of impact, Didymos and Dimorphos will be relatively close to Earth – within 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers).

The spacecraft will accelerate to about 13,421 mph (21,600 kph) when colliding with Dimorphos.

The collision will be recorded by LICIACube, or Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids, a companion Cube satellite provided by the Italian Space Agency.

The briefcase-sized CubeSat has recently been deployed from the spacecraft and is traveling behind it to record what happens.

Three minutes after impact, the CubeSat will fly by Dimorphos to capture images and video. Imagery, while not immediately available, will be streamed back to Earth in the weeks following the collision.

Dimorphos was chosen for this mission because of its size relative to asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth. The spacecraft is about 100 times smaller than Dimorphos, so it will not obliterate the asteroid.

The rapid impact would only change the speed of Dimorphos as it orbits Didymos by 1%, which doesn’t sound like much – but it would change the Moon’s orbital period.

“Sometimes we describe it as driving a golf cart up a great pyramid or something like that,” Chabot said. “But for Dimorphos, it’s really about asteroid deflection, not disruption.”

The nudge will shift Dimorphos slightly and force it more gravitationally to Didymos—so the collision won’t change the binary system’s path around Earth or increase its chances of becoming a threat to our planet, Chabot said. Told.

Dimorphos completes one orbit of Didymos every 11 hours 55 minutes. After impact, this could change to 11 hours and 45 minutes, but follow-up observations will determine how much of the shift occurred.

Astronomers will use ground-based telescopes to observe the binary asteroid system and see how much the orbital period of Dimorphos has changed, which will determine whether DART was successful.

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

In four years the European Space Agency’s era mission will arrive to study Dimorphos. The probe will measure the physical properties of the Moon and observe its orbit and Dart impact.

No asteroid is currently on a direct impact path with Earth, but more than 27,000 near-Earth asteroids exist in all shapes and sizes.

Valuable data collected by DART and HERA will contribute to planetary defense strategies, particularly in understanding what types of force can shift the orbit of a near-Earth asteroid with the potential to collide with our planet.

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