The DART mission is preparing to launch. The probe will try to change the orbit of the asteroid. This is a test of technology that may one day save the Earth from disaster.
On November 23 at 10:40 p.m. PT (Nov. 24, 2021 at 9:21 p.m. PST), SpaceX will launch NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California aboard a Falcon rocket. The aerospace agency will broadcast live.
The small spacecraft will embark on a year-long journey around the sun. According to the plan, the DART trip will end on the evening of September 26, 2022. Then the probe, which is a box 1.22 m wide, will deliberately crash into the small asteroid Dimorfos.
Of course, compared to the ship, it looks huge. However, on a cosmic scale, this Colosseum-sized object is not that big. But scientists did not choose it by chance: they are sure that the collision of the ship and the asteroid will give the space rock enough momentum to change the trajectory of the larger asteroid – Didymos.
None of these celestial bodies threaten the Earth, but they are easy to observe from ground-based telescopes. Although the spacecraft will not destroy the asteroid, it could slightly alter its orbit, which is now 11 hours 55 minutes. As a result, scientists will be able to understand how much momentum is needed to deflect an asteroid if one day it heads towards Earth.
Like many rocky objects in the solar system, the Earth has “scars” from past asteroid collisions. Some of them influenced the formation of life on the planet. For example, according to a scientific hypothesis, about 66 million years ago, an asteroid more than 9 km wide crashed into Earth near the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. This triggered a mass extinction that wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs. Now, for the first time in the history of our planet, the Earth is about to “strike back.”