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NASA to crash spacecraft into asteroid for first time; invites world to watch

NASA’s DART spacecraft and the Italian Space Agency’s (ASI) LICIACube prior to impact at the Didymos binary system (NASA/Released)
August 24, 2022

NASA announced Tuesday that it’s preparing to slam a spacecraft into an asteroid in the world’s first mission to test Earth defense technology targeting asteroid or comet hazards. The U.S. space agency is also inviting the world to watch the first-of-its-kind event. 

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According to a NASA press release, the agency’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will impact its target asteroid on Monday, Sept. 26 at 7:14 p.m. EDT. The target asteroid poses no threat to Earth, NASA said. 

Viewers can watch live coverage of DART’s impact on NASA TV and on the agency’s website. The public can also watch the impact on NASA social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube

Prior to impact on Sept. 26, NASA will host a televised briefing from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), which built and managed the DART spacecraft. 

The test is designed to demonstrate how a spacecraft can “autonomously navigate to a target asteroid and intentionally collide with it to change the asteroid’s motion in a way that can be measured using ground-based telescopes.”

“DART will provide important data to help better prepare for an asteroid that might pose an impact hazard to Earth, should one ever be discovered,” NASA said. 

NASA’s website describes DART’s target as the “binary, near-Earth asteroid system Didymos.” The system is composed of Didymos, which is roughly 2,560 feet in diameter, and Dimorphos, which is 530 feet in diameter. DART will impact Dimorphos, which orbits Didymos. 

“DART will impact Dimorphos to change its orbit within the binary system, and the DART Investigation Team will compare the results of DART’s kinetic impact with Dimorphos to highly detailed computer simulations of kinetic impacts on asteroids,” the website adds. “Doing so will evaluate the effectiveness of this mitigation approach and assess how best to apply it to future planetary defense scenarios, as well as how accurate the computer simulations are and how well they reflect the behavior of a real asteroid.”

DART’s Mission Objectives include: 

  • Demonstrate a kinetic impact with Dimorphos.
  • Change the binary orbital period of Dimorphos.
  • Use ground-based telescope observations to measure Dimorphos’ period change before and after impact.
  • Measure the effects of the impact and resulting ejecta on Dimorphos.

NASA has been using social media to engage the public on its latest space efforts, including releasing the latest images from the revolutionary James Webb telescope, and sharing unique findings on Mars.

Earlier this week, NASA released the chilling sound of a black hole, writing on Twitter that it is a common misconception that space has no sound. 

“The misconception that there is no sound in space originates because most space is a ~vacuum, providing no way for sound waves to travel. A galaxy cluster has so much gas that we’ve picked up actual sound,” NASA tweeted. “Here it’s amplified, and mixed with other data, to hear a black hole!”