NASA is going to smash a spacecraft into an asteroid later tonight

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By stefan armitage

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Later this evening, NASA is going to intentionally collide a spacecraft into a huge asteroid.

As reported by BBC News, the test - which has been dubbed the Double Asteroid Redirection Test or DART - is due to take place at 11:14PM GMT (07:14PM ET) tonight some million miles away from Earth.

The important test aims to establish whether or not the space agency would be capable of preventing a large asteroid from colliding with our planet and leaving us with the same fate as the dinosaurs.

The target is the 160-meter-wide Dimorphos asteroid, which will have the $325 million NASA spacecraft deliberately smashed into it at speeds of 14,000mph.

Experts will be watching on from Earth via telescopes, including the new super space observatory James Webb.

And don't worry if the test is deemed a failure, as the Dimorphos asteroid is currently not on a collision course with Earth.

Speaking to the BBC about the importance of the mission, Dr. Nancy Chabot from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory said: "Dart is the first planetary defense test mission to demonstrate running a spacecraft into an asteroid to move the position of that asteroid ever so slightly in space."

"This is the sort of thing, if you needed to, that you would do years in advance to just give the asteroid a small nudge to change its future position so that the Earth and the asteroid wouldn't be on a collision course," Dr. Chabot
added.

The collision will take place thanks to automated software onboard the spacecraft. "Because of the speed of light and the distances involved, it's really not feasible for there to be a pilot sitting on the ground with a stick controlling the spacecraft. There just isn't enough time to respond," NASA scientist and mission expert Dr. Tom Statler revealed.

Speaking about the importance of the test, NASA's planetary defense officer Lindley Johnson has revealed, per The Guardian: "We don't want to be in a situation where an asteroid is headed toward Earth and then have to be testing this kind of capability.

"We want to know about both how the spacecraft works and what the reaction will be by the asteroid to the impact before we ever get in a situation like that."

"We don’t want to, at the last minute, say, 'Oh, here’s something we hadn’t thought about or phenomena we hadn’t considered'.

"We want to be sure that any change we see is entirely due to what DART did."

And this is an issue that could soon be a reality for humanity in the future, with Professor Alan Fitzsimmons, an astronomer at Queen’s University Belfast, saying:

"We know where the big asteroids are because we can see them with our current generation of telescopes, and we know none of the detected asteroids are coming anywhere near our planet for the next couple of hundred years or so. So we can rest easy in our beds about those ones."

The impact of tonight's crash is expected to reduce Dimorphos' current orbit time around a much bigger asteroid called Didymos.

size-large wp-image-1263170570
Credit: Alejandro Miranda / Alamy

It currently takes Dimorphos approximately 11 hours and 55 minutes to orbit Didymos, with tonight's impact expected to reduce this by 10 minutes.

Featured image credit: dpa picture alliance / Alamy

NASA is going to smash a spacecraft into an asteroid later tonight

vt-author-image

By stefan armitage

Article saved!Article saved!

Later this evening, NASA is going to intentionally collide a spacecraft into a huge asteroid.

As reported by BBC News, the test - which has been dubbed the Double Asteroid Redirection Test or DART - is due to take place at 11:14PM GMT (07:14PM ET) tonight some million miles away from Earth.

The important test aims to establish whether or not the space agency would be capable of preventing a large asteroid from colliding with our planet and leaving us with the same fate as the dinosaurs.

The target is the 160-meter-wide Dimorphos asteroid, which will have the $325 million NASA spacecraft deliberately smashed into it at speeds of 14,000mph.

Experts will be watching on from Earth via telescopes, including the new super space observatory James Webb.

And don't worry if the test is deemed a failure, as the Dimorphos asteroid is currently not on a collision course with Earth.

Speaking to the BBC about the importance of the mission, Dr. Nancy Chabot from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory said: "Dart is the first planetary defense test mission to demonstrate running a spacecraft into an asteroid to move the position of that asteroid ever so slightly in space."

"This is the sort of thing, if you needed to, that you would do years in advance to just give the asteroid a small nudge to change its future position so that the Earth and the asteroid wouldn't be on a collision course," Dr. Chabot
added.

The collision will take place thanks to automated software onboard the spacecraft. "Because of the speed of light and the distances involved, it's really not feasible for there to be a pilot sitting on the ground with a stick controlling the spacecraft. There just isn't enough time to respond," NASA scientist and mission expert Dr. Tom Statler revealed.

Speaking about the importance of the test, NASA's planetary defense officer Lindley Johnson has revealed, per The Guardian: "We don't want to be in a situation where an asteroid is headed toward Earth and then have to be testing this kind of capability.

"We want to know about both how the spacecraft works and what the reaction will be by the asteroid to the impact before we ever get in a situation like that."

"We don’t want to, at the last minute, say, 'Oh, here’s something we hadn’t thought about or phenomena we hadn’t considered'.

"We want to be sure that any change we see is entirely due to what DART did."

And this is an issue that could soon be a reality for humanity in the future, with Professor Alan Fitzsimmons, an astronomer at Queen’s University Belfast, saying:

"We know where the big asteroids are because we can see them with our current generation of telescopes, and we know none of the detected asteroids are coming anywhere near our planet for the next couple of hundred years or so. So we can rest easy in our beds about those ones."

The impact of tonight's crash is expected to reduce Dimorphos' current orbit time around a much bigger asteroid called Didymos.

size-large wp-image-1263170570
Credit: Alejandro Miranda / Alamy

It currently takes Dimorphos approximately 11 hours and 55 minutes to orbit Didymos, with tonight's impact expected to reduce this by 10 minutes.

Featured image credit: dpa picture alliance / Alamy