NASA has launched a spacecraft on a mission to test technology that could one day change the course of a dangerous asteroid headed for Earth.
The DART (Double Asteroid Redirect Test) spacecraft launched at 10:21 p.m. PT on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Vandenberg Space Force Base on the California coast, with lift-off lighting in the night sky.
Asteroid Dimorphos: We’re Coming for You!
& mdash; NASA (@NASA) November 24, 2021
About 55 minutes after launch, SpaceX announced the successful deployment of the Dart spacecraft.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 24, 2021
NASA’s solar-powered spacecraft is now traveling toward a pair of asteroids, none of which threaten Earth.
The larger one, Didymos, has a diameter of about 2,560 feet (780 m), while Dimorphos has a diameter of about 530 feet (160 m).
The spacecraft will attempt to change the course of Dimorphos by crashing into it when it arrives next year. If the mission is successful, it could offer an effective way for Earth to protect itself from any dangerously large asteroids coming our way in the coming years.
Mission manager Clayton Cachele recently reported that NASA targeted the two asteroids because their path and shape make it easier for scientists to track test results.
“DART will target the very small ‘moonlight’ dimorphos of a binary (two-body) asteroid system,” Kachele said, “Didimos, the primary body, safely orbits the Sun and comes close enough to Earth that scientists can observe it using ground-based telescopes. The dynamics of the binary asteroid allows DART to provide the change in velocity that can be measured within the asteroid system. Didymos’ near-Earth pass in fall 2022 allows astronomers to observe the impact and its aftermath with ground- and space-based telescopes.
The space agency recently shared a video (below) giving an overview of the groundbreaking Dart mission.
Scientists believe Earth is most threatened by asteroids 460 feet (140 meters) or larger in size, and many have yet to be discovered by astronomers.
“While no known asteroid larger than 460 ft (140 m) in size has a significant chance of hitting Earth for the next 100 years, less than half of the estimated 25,000 near-Earth objects that are 460 ft (140 m)) And larger than that. sizes have been found to date,” NASA said.
Surely, a successful Dart mission should leave Earthlings with one less thing to worry about.