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First ever Earth-saving asteroid experiment from NASA happening this month

Drawing of an asteroid falling to Earth (State Farm/WikiCommons)
September 05, 2022

NASA is going to try to change the path of an asteroid in hopes of being able to save Earth from destruction some day.

First off, NASA wants us to know that currently there are no asteroids heading toward Earth. For this experiment on trying to change the path of an asteroid, they have picked out an asteroid they can observe but poses no threat to Earth.

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The project is called DART, which stands for Double Asteroid Redirection Test. DART is NASA’s first attempt to demonstrate the technology to deflect an asteroid. DART will use an unmanned spacecraft that hopefully will hit the targeted asteroid head-on. The energy of the collision will change the movement of the asteroid, according to NASA modeling.

The chosen asteroid is called Dimorphos. Dimorphos is about 525 feet wide and orbits around a larger asteroid called Didymos. Dimorphos is around six million miles from Earth. NASA chose this asteroid because Earth-based and sky-based observing instruments like telescopes will be able to watch the collision and the resulting change in orbit.

NASA doesn’t foresee a large enough asteroid to cause large destruction on Earth in the next century, but they want to be prepared if and when a devastating Earth collision could occur.

DART will hit the Dimorphos asteroid head-on at 15,000 miles per hour. This is expected to change the orbit of the asteroid as it revolves around the bigger Didymos asteroid.

DART launched from Earth in November 2021 and is expected to have its collision with the asteroid at 7:14 p.m. Eastern on September 26.

DART is about the size of a vending machine. There is a high resolution camera onboard called DRACO that will be taking pictures right up to impact. There is also a separate satellite attached to DART. This satellite, called CubeSat, was contributed by the Italian Space Agency. CubeSat will separate from the main spacecraft 10 days before the collision and fly alongside DART. CubeSat will fly past the collision about three minutes after impact and send back needed images and scientific data.

Telescopes around the globe will also be watching the impact.

With the images from DRACO and CubeSat and Earth-based telescopes, NASA will be able to tell if the mission was successful.

What will you and I be able to see? Jeremy Rehm, public affairs officer at The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, says, “NASA will be running a live broadcast from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, MD, with live coverage running from 6-7:30 p.m. EDT. We’ll have live interviews with DART team members to discuss the mission and details about how DART navigates itself to an asteroid, and of course DART will be streaming back images from its DRACO camera that we will show live as the spacecraft heads in for impact. As for what we’ll see from the asteroid Dimorphos, nobody knows. We know virtually nothing about this asteroid, so all of the surface features and details we see in the images from DART will be new.”


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