On Tuesday, November 23, at approximately 10:21 pm PT, NASA launched a spacecraft from the Vandenberg Space Force Base as part of its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART).
The spacecraft was attached to the top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket which is a part of a $330 million project.
The purpose of this mission is for the DART craft to smash into an asteroid and test whether it would be possible to knock one off course if Earth were to be threatened.
The craft is expected to make contact with the asteroid in September 2022.
“This isn’t going to destroy the asteroid, it’s just going to give it a small nudge,” said Nancy Chabot. She is the mission official at John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which is managing the project.
The asteroid is named Dimorphos, measures 525 feet (160 meters) across, and travels at 15,000 mph (24,139 kph). Dimorphos orbits a larger asteroid called Didymos.
Neither of these enormous rocks is a danger to Earth, but together, they offer scientists a way to measure the effectiveness of the collision.
Every 11 hours and 55 minutes, Dimorphos completes a rotation around Didymos.
The goal of DART is to crash into Dimorphos, thus slowing its rotation and causing it to fall closer toward the bigger asteroid, Didymos. This is expected to cut 10 minutes off of Dimorphos’ orbit time.
The mission will be monitored by telescopes on Earth which will track the change to the asteroid’s orbit. A minimum change of 73 seconds in the orbit time would be considered a successful mission.
Scientists are constantly monitoring asteroids to determine whether or not they could hit our planet.
“Although there isn’t a currently known asteroid that’s on an impact course with the Earth, we do know that there is a large population of near-Earth asteroids out there,” said Lindsey Johnson, who is the planetary defense officer at NASA. “The key to planetary defense is finding them well before they are an impact threat.”
Ten days before DART impacts the asteroid, it will release a tiny observation spacecraft that will stream the video until it is inevitably destroyed on impact.
The collision will take place approximately 6.8 million miles from Earth 10 months from now.