On Monday, September 26, 2022, NASA will intentionally crash one of its own spacecraft into an asteroid.
The first mission to test technology to defend Earth against potential asteroid and comet impacts, the ambitious Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission will impact Dimorphos, a small moon of asteroid Didymos.
Didymos and Dimorphos are not on an Earth-bound trajectory, but they did approach Earth in 2003 and occasionally approach Mars as well.
The historic event will occur at exactly 7:14 p.m. EDT on Monday, September 26, 2022, with live coverage beginning at 6:00 p.m. EDT on NASA TV on the agency’s website and on Facebook. Twitter and YouTube.
Here’s everything you need to know about the daring DART mission and what will happen after impact:
What is DART?
It is the first planetary defense mission. Its objective is to see if it is possible to alter the trajectory of a potentially dangerous object in space by colliding with it. The consequences of the kinetic impact of the 500kg DART spacecraft on Dimorphos will be studied immediately and for many years to see if it is a viable solution for when a truly threatening object is headed our way.
What are Didymos and Dimorphos?
They are two near-Earth asteroids orbiting each other, which is not unusual. The larger of the two bodies in this binary system is the 2,560-foot/780-meter-diameter Didymos and the smaller 530-foot/160-meter Dimorphos (also called “Didymoon”), which orbits Didymos.
Didymos and Dimorphos have a two-year orbit of the Sun that is slightly tilted relative to that of the planets and also slightly eccentric. They are found beyond Earth to beyond Mars.
When DART catches up with them, Didymos and Dimorphos will be about 6.8 million miles/11 million kilometers from Earth.
What will DART do?
The idea is that creating a “kinetic deflection” on Dimorphos will slightly change the trajectory of both objects.
DART will hit Dimorphos at about 15,000 miles per hour and hopefully change its orbital speed by 0.4mm/s, which in turn will slightly alter Didymos’ trajectory. If all goes according to plan, the time it takes for the smaller asteroid to orbit Didymos will change by several minutes.
A simulation published in December 2021 icarus The magazine showed that DART “can excite” the spin of the small moon Dimorphos and cause a “chaotic fall” to achieve the expected orbital change.
Will DART work?
The DART research team has very detailed computer simulations of kinetic impacts on asteroids, but no direct evidence of what would actually happen. So a lot of time has been spent learning about binary asteroids in detail.
“The before-and-after nature of this experiment requires exquisite knowledge of the asteroid system before we do anything about it,” said Nick Moskovitz, an astronomer at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, and co-director of an observing campaign in July. . 2022. “We don’t want, at the last minute, to say, ‘Oh, here’s something we hadn’t thought of or phenomena we hadn’t considered.’ We want to be sure that any change we see is entirely due to what DART did.”
In October, several ground-based telescopes around the world will be used to calculate Dimorphos’s new orbit. “Thanks to the worldwide effort to observe this system from ground-based telescopes, we know what it looks like before impact,” Moskovitz said. “After the impact, we will use some of the same techniques to determine how much Dimorphos has moved, and ultimately how successful we were.”
However, another space agency is sending another spacecraft to double check.
What is ‘Hera’?
The European Space Agency’s “Hera” follow-up mission, due to launch in 2024 and arrive in early January 2027, is an asteroid-encounter spacecraft designed to see if DART worked.
Hera will take a close look at both Didymos and Dimorphos using lasers, a star tracker, a thermal infrared camera, and accelerometers. She will see if the impact crater left by DART in Dimorphos (which will reach 200 meters) has altered the trajectory of Didymos.
When was DART launched?
DART launched on Wednesday, November 24, 2021, from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It was originally planned to launch on July 21, 2021, but was delayed due to supply chain issues. COVID-19 and some technical challenges.
I wish you clear skies and wide eyes.