What to expect from NASA’s DART mission to deflect an asteroid

Artistic depiction of NASA's DART probe and the Italian Space Agency's LICIACube probe in the Didymos binary system.

Artistic depiction of NASA’s DART probe and the Italian Space Agency’s LICIACube probe in the Didymos binary system.
picture: NASA / Johns Hopkins APL / Steve Gribbin

A NASA spacecraft called DART is set to collide with a small asteroid as part of a planetary defense test. While this space rock is not a concern, what we learn from the mission can help us if any asteroid is advancing our way.

NASA Keep tabs On 28,000 asteroids nearby, none of them currently pose a threat to Earth. However, astronomers discover about 3,000 asteroids each year, so it is possible that we will eventually find one with our name on it. Fortunately, the upcoming DART test to deflect a non-threatening asteroid may mean we’re not just ducks.

The latest Netflix movie do not search It was a metaphor for climate change denial, but it also reminded us that incoming asteroids could seriously spoil us. Just ask the dinosaurs. During the film, the president announced the mission to destroy the asteroid with nuclear weapons, which is typical of Hollywood’s approach to such matters. In the real world, scientists have shown it Nuclear weapons may actually work For the disintegration of threatening asteroids, but a small part of the debris can collide with our planet. Instead of this boxing approach, NASA is envisioning something more elegant — something a little more Jiu-Jitsu. Instead of smashing an asteroid to pieces, NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office will try to change its orbital path and steer away from Earth’s path.

What is the mission of DART?

NASA’s $308 million Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, is a mission to test this theory. On September 26, a 1,376-pound probe will attempt to collide with a small asteroid at speeds approaching 15,000 miles per hour (24,000 kilometers per hour). The small asteroid, Demorphos, poses no threat to Earth, but by changing its orbital path, NASA will have successfully tested a viable strategy for pushing dangerous asteroids out of harm’s way using kinetic shocks. Dimorphos It orbits a slightly larger asteroid called Didymos; The The mission aims to change this orbit.

Graphical overview of DART.

Graphical overview of DART.
Draw: NASA

DART is NASA’s first planetary defense test mission, It was designed and built by teams at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office has tasked APL with the task of managing the project, but important contributors are NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Johnson Space Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the European Space Agency.and the Italian Space Agency, among many others.

When will DART hit the asteroid?

DART is launched into space aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 on November 24, 2021. The spacecraft is nearing the end of 11 months The journey, having traveled 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers) to reach Didymus. DART is is expected to reach its target on September 26 at 7:14 p.m. ET, at which time it will collide with Demorphos, thus self-destructing but potentially pushing the asteroid’s path.

Three course correction maneuvers are required in the last three weeks of flight to keep DART on track. The last of these maneuvers will occur approximately 24 hours before impact, during which time the navigation team will know the location of Dimorphos to an accuracy of 1.24 miles (2 kilometers), according to to NASA. From that point onthe independent navigation system DART, called SMART NAV, will direct it towards its target. SMART NAV is designed to distinguish between 2,650 feet (780 meters .) in widthDidymus of 525 feet wide (160-meterDimorphos, to prevent potential confusion at the scene.

Will we be able to see the effect?

yes! Multiple eyes, both in space and on Earth, will be watching the experience closely.

DART will provide a POV perspective from its demise by virtue of its only scientific tool, the Didymos reconnaissance and asteroid camera for visual navigation. Known as DRACO for short, which also feeds data to SMART NAV, this camera captures binary pair images on a DART approach. on July 27 DRACO Snapped a View of the Pair 20 million miles away (32 million kilometers).

Dimorphos and Didymos as spotted by DART's DRACO instrument on July 27, when the probe was about 20 million miles away.

Dimorphos and Didymos as spotted by DART’s DRACO instrument on July 27, when the probe was about 20 million miles away.
picture: NASA JPL’s DART Navigation Team

We will also have in front-Row seats for this event by virtue of Light Italian cubes to photograph asteroidsor LICIACube. Built by the Italian Space Agency, LICIACube will separate from DART 10 days before impact. The two onboard cameras, called LUKE and LEIA, will get high-resolution color images from a safe distance.

Artist's depiction of DART (left) with a separate LICIACube vision.

Artist’s depiction of DART (left) with separationEd Liciacube is looking at.
picture: Italian space agency

Back on Earth, NASA’s ground-based telescopes and radar will be watching the event closely. You will use its own ESA Estrack networkwhich includes dish antennas in Argentina and Australia, to follow the experiment with an accuracy of several hundred metres.

Next HERA . mission, a joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency, will launch a probe in 2024 to study the long-term effects of the impact and possibly take a look at the new Demorphos crater. HERA . will carry two cubes Together with the ride. Scientists will want to measure any changes in the young moon’s rotation and trajectory in the months and years following the impact.

How do I view the DART task?

NASA Television will begin its live coverage of the DART experiment on September 26 at 6:00 PM ET. Impact is expected at 7:14 PM ET. Live coverage will be broadcast on NASA TVAnd the NASA YouTubeAnd the NASA FacebookAnd the NASA Twitter.

The virtual telescope project will also provide live coverageDuring this time, Earth-based robotic telescopes will attempt to make observations of the impact. Gizmodo will provide a more detailed guide on how to watch the DART test in the days leading up to the event.

What does NASA hope to achieve with the DART test?

The space agency has listed four main goals: successfully demonstrating a kinetic impact with Dimorphos, changing its orbital path, using ground-based telescopes to measure changes in the Dimorphos’ orbital period, and measuring physical effects of the impact, such as debris emitted by an asteroid.

However, it is ultimately a test of a potential planetary defense strategy. “The DART target asteroid is not a threat to Earth but is an ideal testing ground to see if this asteroid deflection method — known as kinetic impact technology — would be a viable way to protect our planet if an asteroid on a collision course with Earth is detected in the future,” according to to NASA.

Can a DART test endanger the Earth?

nNeither Didymus nor Demorphos currently pose a threat to Earth, nor will they pose a threat after DART. NASA chose this system because it represents similar binary pairs scattered throughout the solar system, and because it was considered ideal for such a test. NASA Saysthe effect would “change the moon’s speed in its orbit around the main body by a fraction of one percent, but this would change the orbital period of the young moon by several minutes—enough for observations and measurements with telescopes on Earth.”

And just to be clear, Earth is currently not in imminent danger of being hit by a large asteroid, at least not for the next 100 years. Concern relates to potentially dangerous near-Earth objects that appear suddenly without warning. In such cases, we want to be prepared and have sound strategies in place to face such risks. If DART succeeds, it will put us in the right direction.

Related: The 2021 asteroid collision simulation experiment ended in disaster.