On Tuesday evening NASA will attempt to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid 7 million miles away in the hopes of knocking it off its course. Its target is Dimorphos, a moonlet that orbits the asteroid Didymos.
NASA claims the pair pose no threat to Earth, so think of it as a practice run for the real deal. You know, just in case landing a crew of hotshot blue-collar deep core oil drillers to blow it up with a nuke (opens in new tab) isn’t an option.
As reported by Space.com (opens in new tab), success or not, the mission will provide important data so that scientists and engineers can use it for planetary defense in the off-chance a future asteroid is on a collision course with Earth. However, I’m pretty sure Kerbal Space Program already has an elegant way of redirecting asteroids (opens in new tab).
DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) is NASA’s vending machine-sized spacecraft charged with the critical mission. Didymos (opens in new tab), which is 780 meters, orbits the sun, and the smaller Dimorphos orbits Didymos every 11 hours and 55 minutes. The goal is to hit Dimorphus so hard it’ll speed up the orbit around its larger twin by ten minutes, proving that the impact altered the path of the rock.
DART hitched a ride on top of the SpaceX Falcon 9 last November and traveled roughly 7 million miles before disembarking on its one-way mission towards the asteroid pair. Onboard is a CubeSat (a tiny satellite) that will detach and film the impact from a safe distance, in addition to the onboard camera that is expected to go dark once it crashes into the asteroid.
At 170 meters, Dimorphos is considered a “tiny asteroid,” according to Tom Statler, NASA mission program specialist in a press conference. He also added that “hitting an asteroid is a tough thing to do.”
You can watch the live feed (opens in new tab) of NASA’s DART Spacecraft smack into Asteroid Dimorphos at 7:14 pm ET. According to NASA, the feed should mostly be black with a single point of light. As the DART spacecraft gets closer to Dimorphos, the light point is expected to get bigger, giving a more detailed look of the asteroid right up to impact. There will be an expected delay as the images are being beamed to Earth from millions of miles away.