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Nasa is going to crash a spacecraft on an asteroid. Here’s why?

An Illustration of DART, from behind. Credit: Nasa

Just out near Mars, there is a belt of rocky objects that are frozen in time, on certain occasions these objects tend to venture beyond their belt. Known as asteroids, these Near Earth Objects (NEOs) could someday prove to be dangerous to us. And they have in the past.

About 65 million years ago, one such asteroid came hurtling towards Earth crashing into it and in the minutes and hours that followed, it wiped out the planet of a massive species – dinosaurs. Astronomers are not ready to take their chances again.

On Tuesday morning, Nasa is going to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid in a bid to test a technology that could be used in future to deflect such objects coming toward us. The Dart mission will impact a binary asteroid system to test a kinetic impact technology.

What is the DART Mission?

The Double Asteroid  Redirection Test (DART) is a unique mission that was launched in 2021 towards an asteroid system to collide with it on purpose. The collision will test a technology that could be used to deflect or slightly change the orbit of an asteroid coming towards us in the future.

A Composite of 243 images taken by DRACO on July 27, 2022, detecting Didymos
 A Composite of 243 images taken by DRACO on July 27, 2022, detecting Didymos. Credit: Nasa

Nasa says that the mission will deliberately collide with a target asteroid—which poses no threat to Earth— in order to change its speed and path. Astronomers, space, and ground-based telescope will keep an eye on the impact to see the changes as it happens.

Where will DART crash?

The spacecraft will collide with the binary asteroid system, which also has its own moon. The spacecraft is headed to the near-Earth asteroid system Didymos, which at the moment poses no threat to Earth. The spacecraft will hit Dimorphos, the smallest of the two asteroids in the Didymos system.

Dimorphos is nearly 530 feet in size and Dart will hit to slightly change its orbit within the binary system. The spacecraft is set to hit the asteroid at a speed of 24,000 kilometres per hour.

Infographic showing the effect of DART's impact on the orbit of Dimorphos
Infographic showing the effect of DART’s impact on the orbit of Dimorphos. Credit: Nasa

What is the objective of the DART mission?

The mission is to test a Kinetic Impactor Technology, developed to be used in space as an asteroid comes hurtling towards our planet. The objectives of the mission 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.

Can we watch it happen?

Yes, we can.

Here is a live stream of the impact as it happens.

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