NASA has launched a spacecraft on a mission to test technology that could one day alter the course of a hazardous asteroid heading toward Earth.
The DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) spacecraft launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Vandenberg Space Force Base on the California coast at 10:21 p.m. PT., with the liftoff lighting up the night sky.
Asteroid Dimorphos: we're coming for you!
— 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, neither of which pose a threat to Earth.
The larger one, Didymos, has a diameter of about 2,560 feet (780 meters), while Dimorphos is about 530 feet (160 meters) across.
The spacecraft will attempt to change the course of Dimorphos by crashing into it when it reaches it next year. If the mission is successful, it could offer an effective way for Earth to protect itself from any dangerously large asteroids discovered heading our way in the years to come.
Mission manager Clayton Kachele explained recently that NASA targeted the two asteroids because their path and size make it easier for scientists to track the results of the test.
“DART will target Dimorphos, the much smaller ‘moonlet’ of a binary (two-body) asteroid system,” Kachele said. “Didymos, the primary body, safely orbits the sun and comes close enough to Earth such that scientists can observe it using ground-based telescopes. The dynamic of the binary asteroid allows DART to impart a change of velocity that can be measured within the asteroid system. Didymos’ pass by Earth 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) offering an overview of the groundbreaking DART mission.
Scientists believe Earth is at most risk from asteroids with a size of 460 feet (140 meters) or more, and many are yet to be discovered by astronomers.
“While no known asteroid larger than 460 feet (140 meters) in size has a significant chance to hit Earth for the next 100 years, less than half of the estimated 25,000 near-Earth objects that are 460 feet (140 meters) and larger in size have been found to date,” NASA said.
For sure, a successful DART mission should leave earthlings with one less thing to worry about.
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