It’s finally happening. After about a year of anticipation around NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART), the mission will be completed on Monday night when the spacecraft is expected to crash into its target asteroid.
NASA said Thursday that the mission – the first in the world to test technology to protect the planet from potentially hazardous asteroids or comets – will reach its asteroid target at about 7:14 pm ET.
The spacecraft being crash tested will go straight into the, called Dimorphos, of the nearby asteroid Didymos. The size of Dimorphos is “more typical of the size of asteroids” that would likely be a significant threat to Earth, NASA has previously said. It’s a high-speed task with the spacecraft poised to crash into the asteroid at just under 15,000 mph – faster than a bullet and fast enough to change the moon’s speed by a fraction of 1%, NASA said.
Neither Dimorphos nor Didymos are a threat to Earth at this time. According to NASA, no known asteroid larger than 140 meters (459 feet) has a “significant chance” of hitting Earth in the next century. However, only about 40% of those asteroids have been discovered as of October 2021.
“We’re testing to see if you can impact an asteroid and change its trajectory in case we find an asteroid heading toward Earth,” said Karen Fox, a senior science communications officer at NASA on Thursday.
Katherine Calvin, NASA’s chief scientist and senior climate advisor, said the agency looks at asteroids to better understand the history of the solar system and Earth, but also “to make sure we are not in their path.”
“Asteroid impacts have also had profound effects on Earth,” she said. “They’ve changed ecosystems and caused the extinction of species. The dinosaurs didn’t have a space program to help them know what was coming, but we do, so DART is an important advance in understand how to avoid potential hazards. the future and how to protect our planet from potential impacts.”
Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary protection officer, said that while DART is an “exciting time,” it is also significant for “human history.”
“This demonstration is extremely important for our future here on Earth and for life on Earth,” he said.
Telescopes on every continent on Earth, as well as the Hubble and James Webb space telescopes, will observe the mission’s impact, said DART program scientist Tom Statler.
The agency will provide a briefing on the test at 6 pm Monday and will host another after the impact at 8 pm
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