Wednesday, September 28, 2022
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NASA’s DART mission will test a planetary defense strategy by hitting an asteroid

If all goes well, a spacecraft NASA launched last November will crash into an asteroid on Monday.

If everything goes absolutely perfectlythat impact will push the asteroid into a slightly different orbit, meaning that for the first time, humans will have changed the trajectory of a celestial object.

Making history, however, is incidental. The real mission is to defend the planet.

There’s no need to panic: The target space rock has no chance of hitting Earth, nor any other known asteroid for at least half a century. This NASA mission, operated by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, is testing a technique to redirect an asteroid in case future Earth people really need to move one out of the way.

The basic idea couldn’t be simpler: Hit it with a hammer! But the degree of difficulty is high, in part because no one has ever seen the asteroid that NASA plans to push. It is a small moon called Dimorphos that is about the size of a football stadium.

Sky watchers operating the world’s highest-powered telescopes detect the small moon only as a shadow crossing the larger orbiting asteroid, Didymos, as the two revolve around the sun together. The pair form a “double asteroid,” a common arrangement in our solar system.

Here’s how the $330 million Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is designed to work:

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