An asteroid minding its own business not too removed from Earth is about to get knocked about by a visitor from our planet.
On Monday, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraft, or DART, is about to collide with Dimorphos, a small asteroid that’s the moon of a bigger space rock, Didymos. While these two near-Earth objects pose no immediate threat to our world, NASA launched DART last yr to check a method that would at some point be used for planetary defense. Here’s what it’s essential know concerning the mission.
When is the collision and the way can I watch it?
DART is about to crash into Dimorphos at 14,000 miles per hour at 7:14 p.m. Eastern time on Monday.
NASA Television will broadcast coverage of the top of this mission starting at 6 p.m. Or you may watch it within the video player embedded above.
If all you ought to watch is a stream of photos from the spacecraft because it closes in on the asteroid, NASA’s media channel will begin broadcasting those at 5:30 p.m.
Why is NASA crashing into an asteroid?
NASA isn’t just wasting an expensive, sophisticated spacecraft for fun. The agency is doing its job.
In 2005, Congress set a mandate for NASA to search out, by 2020, 90 percent of near-Earth asteroids which might be sufficiently big to destroy a city — those which might be 460 feet or wider in diameter. But Congress never gave NASA much money to perform that task, so it stays greater than half unfinished, with about 15,000 more of such asteroids to find.
While the agency is searching the heavens for deadly space rocks, it is also developing methods for responding to a threat, should one emerge.
The DART mission isn’t just like the movie “Armageddon.” Blowing up an asteroid generally wouldn’t be a superb thing to do. Somewhat, the mission is a proof-of-principle demonstration that hitting an oncoming asteroid with a projectile can nudge it into a special orbit.
For a dangerous oncoming asteroid, that nudge may very well be enough to vary the trajectory from a direct hit to a near miss.
What’s going to occur through the collision?
The mission’s goal is Dimorphos, a small asteroid that’s about 500 feet in diameter and orbits a bigger object, a half-mile-wide asteroid named Didymos. A distance of about 0.6 miles separates the 2, with Dimorphos completing one orbit around Didymos every 11 hours, 55 minutes.
DART will essentially be a self-driving suicidal spacecraft, guiding itself to its demise with people on the mission operations center on the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland largely just spectators.
“You’re moving extremely fast,” said Elena Adams, the DART mission systems engineer. “And at that time, you can not really send any commands. And so your system must be very, very precise in the way it’s controlling the spacecraft.”
DART’s camera is not going to spot Dimorphos as a separate dot from Didymos until about an hour before the crash. Then it should adjust its flight path, ending in an excellent collision.
“It is actually hard to hit a little or no object in space, and we’re going to do it,” Dr. Adams said.
What happens if the mission succeeds?
If DART and Dimorphos connect as planned, the small asteroid’s orbit will catch up with to the larger Didymos. The magnitude of the change will rely upon the structure and composition of Dimorphos.
If Dimorphos is solid and DART carves only a small crater, then the change will follow the fundamentals of a Physics 101 problem — two objects colliding and sticking together. Because DART is moving within the direction opposite to Dimorphos, it should sap among the asteroid’s angular momentum, causing it to maneuver closer to Didymos and speed up.
But when Dimorphos is more like a pile of rubble held together by gravity, then the impact will create a deep crater and send a shower of debris flying into space. That cascade of rock might be just like the thrust of a rocket engine pushing against the asteroid. In that case, the orbit of Dimorphos will descend even closer to Didymos.
It can take a while to know the way well it worked. A companion that launched with DART, LICIACube, will capture images of DART’s demise from a vantage point relatively near the asteroid.
Other spacecraft, including the Hubble Space Telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope and one other recently launched mission, Lucy, might be using their instruments to observe the collision from farther away. Telescopes on Earth may even look ahead to changes within the dimming of Didymos as Dimorphos crosses in front of it.
What’s happening with NASA’s big moon rocket?
Artemis I, the uncrewed mission meant to kick off NASA’s return of astronauts to the moon, scrubbed a pair of launches on Aug. 29 and Sept. 3 due to technical issues during fueling.
After testing a fix to a leaking hydrogen fuel line last week, NASA planned to attempt to launch again on Tuesday, Sept. 27. But poor weather conditions prompted the agency to call off the launch attempt.
The agency now must resolve whether the chance of Tropical Storm Ian requires rolling the rocket back to the Vehicle Assembly Constructing, essentially a large garage where engineers work on the rocket away from the weather. If NASA decides conditions are protected enough to maintain the rocket on the launchpad, it might attempt to launch in early October. But when the rocket is rolled away from the launchpad, the agency can have to attend several weeks before trying again. NASA says it might make that call on Monday.