The DART mission began in November 2021, when NASA sent a spacecraft into space aboard a Falcon 9 rocket with the mission to crash into asteroid Dimorphos located 11 million kilometers from the Earth. This test is meant to help humanity protect itself from a potential collision in the future. The impact is scheduled for tonight.
Dimorphos is a small “moon” that orbits a larger asteroid, Didymos, located 11 million kilometers from Earth. While it is not a direct threat to the planet, NASA scientists believe that it is from this type of asteroid that a threat could one day come. So we might as well start protecting ourselves from it. This is the purpose of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART).
Tonight, a NASA spacecraft, which left from Earth 11 months ago, will try to hit this asteroid, hoping to change its trajectory. This is the world’s first planetary defense test.
To reach such a small target, the spacecraft will navigate autonomously during the last four hours, like a self-guided missile. A few minutes before impact, its Draco camera will take the very first images of the asteroid, whose shape is not yet known. The images will be visible live on Earth with a delay of 45 seconds.
Three minutes after the impact, a small satellite, called LICIACube (Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging Asteroids will pass at about 55 km from the asteroid to capture images of the scene. This satellite was already released by the spacecraft a few days ago. These images will be sent back to Earth in the following weeks and months.
A new European mission will then analyze the effects of the DART mission. The European probe HERA is expected to take off in October 2024 for an arrival in 2026 on Dimorphos.
The moment of impact between the spacecraft and the asteroid can be followed live on NASA TV. The collision is set to occur at 4:14 PM pm/7:14 pm ET.