What will we see when NASA intentionally collides with an asteroid?

Since November 2021, a NASA Spaceship the size of a compact vending machine outer space On an unprecedented journey of self-destruction to collide with a harmless asteroid.

Why are you asking? target practice.

Now the DART spacecraft, in short Double Asteroid Redirect Testjust a week away from landing with her blow, hitting head inside of it Dimorphoswhich is a 525-foot-high space rock with a size of High roller ferris wheel In Las Vegas, at 14,000 miles per hour. For the US space agency, the deliberate destruction of this $330 million metal box is part of its first planetary defense mission — training for the day humans might need to stop an asteroid scurrying toward Earth.

“My heart rate has increased quite a bit,” said Michelle Chen, chief engineer for the autopilot system at DART, better known as SMART Nav.

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NASA engineers inspect the DART spacecraft before it is launched off the coast of California in November 2021.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

What exactly will engineers see from the mission’s operations center at a distance of 6.8 million miles from the accident? Perhaps more than you think, and NASA plans to share its front row seat with the rest of the world.

Images will return from the camera, the only instrument on the spacecraft, right before the collision. NASA plans to broadcast mission Starts from 6 p.m. ET on September 26 and publicly sharing photos as DART sends them down, until the 7:14 p.m. effect.

But don’t expect the blow to look like a planet is dying in the sky, disaster-pattern, with glowing ripples in space and pieces of rock flying off, mixed with close-ups of Bruce Willis’ aching face. The spacecraft, weighing about 1,300 pounds, would give Dimorphos more of an annihilation boost — a kind of strategy meant to push an asteroid off its collision course without creating a massive spray of debris that could be dangerous in itself.

“Sometimes we describe it as running a golf cart at the Great Pyramid,” said Nancy Chabot, who is supervising the project at the Johns Hopkins Laboratory of Applied Physics in Maryland. “This is actually about asteroid deflection, not turbulence.”

“Sometimes we describe it as running a golf cart in the Great Pyramid.”

Like the Moon, Demorphos orbits another, larger asteroid, Didymos. The pair make an elliptical orbit around the sun, extending from beyond Mars to beyond Earth’s orbit. It takes about two years to make a full episode.

Although Dimorphos won’t explode, the spacecraft’s slap will leave a crater and cause an explosion of up to 220,000 pounds of crushed rock into space.

Chabot said the spacecraft’s sharp images should be “amazing,” with a new one taken every second.

At first, people will see the asteroid as just a point of light. That spot will eventually grow into the frame, until the DART spacecraft takes off.

“It’s going to start filling up in the field of view… about two minutes later and closer,” said Chen.

NASA inspects LICIACube

More images will then come from a small spacecraft provided by the Italian Space Agency called LICIACube.
Credit: Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

More images will then come from a toaster-sized spacecraft provided by the Italian Space Agency. LICIACube will fly close to the disaster site three minutes later and capture footage of the collision and wreckage with its two cameras. Those first images from Fallout won’t be available for a few days, with more to follow over the weeks and months.

Scientists will also try to observe the collision with the Webb and Hubble space telescopes, along with the Lucy probe, Spacecraft on a 12-year asteroid tour in the outer solar system.

But none of these instruments will tell NASA how much DART moved the asteroid. Therefore, the team will need ground-based telescopes to take the measurements. Demorphos wanders around his eldest companion Didymus every 11 hours 55 minutes. With observatories on Earth, scientists hope to confirm the collision that brought it closer, making its orbit somewhere in the vicinity 10 minutes shorter.

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Threatened asteroids

Millions of asteroids orbit the sun. They are the rocky ruins left over from the formation of the solar system about 4.6 billion years ago. The majority are located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but sometimes the rocks are pushed into the inner solar system.

Such stray asteroids rarely come close to their habitat, but at least three have caused mass extinctions throughout history, the most famous of which spent the dinosaurs.

Today astronomers observe space rocks within a circumference of 30 million miles. There are currently no known asteroids on an impact path with Earth. However, scientists are watching 30,000 large pieces There is—including 10,000 feet by 460 feet or greater—a size large enough to destroy a city or region if it were to become land. They estimate there may be another 15,000 waiting to be discovered.

Kits repairing damage after the Chelyabinsk meteorite explosion

Workers repair a power line near the wall of a local zinc factory damaged by a meteorite impact in Chelyabinsk, Russia, on February 15, 2013.
Image source: Oleg Kargopolov/AFP via Getty Images

But even smaller rocks can cause a lot of damage. An undetected meteorite exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February 2013, causing this to happen Air blast and shock that affected six cities. About 1,600 people were injured in the blast. The rock was about 60 feet wide, according to NASA.

Although there is no known direct threat to the planet, NASA believes that tests such as DART are necessary studies to protect life on Earth in the future.

“That’s what you want to do for planetary defense,” Chabot said. “You’re just trying to give a small push to something, which changes position only slightly, and that results in a big change in position over time.”