NASA’s DART mission will deliberately crash into an asteroid moon in the name of planetary defense – .

NASA’s DART mission will deliberately crash into an asteroid moon in the name of planetary defense – .

A spaceship that will deliberately crash into an asteroid is about to take off.

The DART mission, or NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test, will take off at 10:20 p.m. PT on November 23 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

Following its launch in November, NASA will test its asteroid deflection technology in September 2022 to see its impact on the movement of a near-Earth asteroid in space.

The target of this asteroid deflection technology is Dimorphos, a small moon orbiting the near-Earth asteroid Didymos. This will be the agency’s first large-scale demonstration of this type of technology on behalf of planetary defense.

Near-Earth objects are asteroids and comets whose orbits place them within 30 million kilometers of Earth. Detecting the threat of NEOs, or NEOs, which could potentially cause serious damage, is one of the primary goals of NASA and other space organizations around the world.


Two decades ago, a binary system involving a near-Earth asteroid was found to have an orbiting moon, nicknamed Didymos. In Greek, Didymos means “twin,” which was used to describe how the largest asteroid, which measures nearly half a mile in diameter, is orbited by a smaller moon 525 feet in diameter. At the time, the moon was known as Didymos b.

Kleomenis Tsiganis, a planetologist at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and member of the DART team, suggested that the moon is called Dimorphos.

“Dimorphos, which means” two forms “, reflects the status of this object as the first celestial body to have the” shape “of its orbit significantly altered by mankind – in this case by the DART impact,” he said. Tsiganis said. “As such, it will be the first object to be known to humans in two very different forms, one seen by DART before impact and the other seen by Hera from the European Space Agency a few years later. . “

By September 2022, Didymos and Dimorphos will be relatively close to Earth and within 6,835,083 miles (11 million kilometers) of our planet. Now is the perfect time for the DART mission.

DART will deliberately crash into Dimorphos to alter the movement of the asteroid in space, according to NASA. This collision will be recorded by LICIACube, a companion CubeSat or cube satellite provided by the Italian Space Agency. The CubeSat will travel on DART and then be deployed from there before impact so that it can record what is happening.

“Astronomers will be able to compare observations from terrestrial telescopes before and after the kinetic impact of DART to determine how much the Dimorphos orbital period has changed,” said Tom Statler, DART program scientist at NASA Headquarters, in a report. communicated. “This is the key metric that will tell us how the asteroid responded to our deflection effort. “

A few years after the impact, the European Space Agency’s Hera mission will conduct a follow-up investigation into Didymos and Dimorphos.

While the DART mission was developed for the NASA Planetary Defense Coordination Office and managed by the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, the mission team will work with the Hera mission team. as part of an international collaboration known as the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment, or AIDA.

“DART is a first step in testing methods for the dangerous deflection of asteroids,” Andrea Riley, DART program manager at NASA Headquarters, said in a statement. “Potentially dangerous asteroids are of global concern, and we are delighted to be working with our Italian and European colleagues to collect the most accurate data possible from this demonstration of kinetic impact deflection. “


Dimorphos was chosen for this mission because its size is relative to the asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth.

DART will collide with Dimorphos moving at 14,763.8 miles per hour. A camera on DART, called DRACO, and autonomous navigation software will help the spacecraft detect and collide with Dimorphos.

This rapid impact will only change Dimorphos’ speed as it orbits Didymos by 1%, which doesn’t sound like much, but it will change the moon’s orbital period by several minutes. This change can be observed and measured from ground-based telescopes on Earth. It will also be the first time that humans will change the dynamics of a body in the solar system in a measurable way, according to the European Space Agency.

Three years after the impact, Hera will arrive to study Dimorphos in detail, measure the physical properties of the moon, study the DART impact, and study its orbit.

It may seem like a long time to wait between impact and follow-up, but it’s based on lessons learned in the past.

In July 2005, NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft launched an 815 pound copper impact into a comet, Tempel 1. But the spacecraft could not see the resulting crater as the impact released tons of dust and ice. However, NASA’s Stardust mission in 2011 was able to characterize the impact – a 492-foot gash.

Together, the valuable data collected by DART and Hero will contribute to planetary defense strategies, especially understanding the type of force needed to move the orbit of a near-Earth asteroid that could collide with our planet.


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