NASA’s 911 for asteroids

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SpaceX is set to launch a NASA spacecraft on a mission to learn how to change the course of an asteroid in deep space.

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why it matters: The mission – called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) – will test the technology needed to redirect a dangerous asteroid if one is ever found with Earth.

Running news: The SpaceX Falcon 9 is expected to launch Dart into space at 1:21 p.m. Wednesday.

  • NASA will broadcast that broadcast The launch starts at 12:30 AM on Tuesday for all you night owls.
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how it works: Once in space, DART will make its way to a smaller asteroid called “Moonlight” named Dimorphos that orbits the larger asteroid Didymos.

  • The Dart, which will weigh about 1,345 pounds at launch, will slam into Dimorphos in the fall of 2022 to see if it can shift the moonlight’s course.
  • The asteroid system is not in danger of impacting Earth, making it a good target for this type of experiment. It is also in a good position for scientists on Earth to monitor the two asteroids in the system. With observatories on the ground.
  • “The right time to deflect an asteroid is as far from Earth as we can,” NASA planetary defense officer Lindley Johnson said during a news conference. “The farther it is in space … the less force it takes to change orbit such that it will be a miss rather than a hit.”

big picture: NASA and other space agencies track potentially dangerous asteroids as they make their way around the Sun.

  • NASA says it found 90% of all near-Earth objects 3,280 feet long or larger, and the agency is now working on finding 90% of those types of objects that are 459 feet long or larger.
  • As of June 2021, the agency had found about 40% of asteroids in that small size range.
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what to watch: Eventually, new telescopes on the ground and in space, such as the Near-Earth Object Surveyor Space Telescope currently in development at NASA, Will allow scientists to find and track asteroids that are difficult to see today.

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