When you look up at the sky in late November, just know that there’s a chance NASA will be ramming a spacecraft into some space rocks.
They will be doing this as part of their Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, which is basically a massive undertaking to test technologies that will protect Earth from the threat of an asteroid strike.
Yes, like that movie with Ben Affleck and Bruce Willis and Liv Tyler and the others.
TechCrunch notes that DART is basically a dry run of Armageddon:
Unlike the film, this will not involve nukes, oil rigs or Aerosmith, but instead is a practical test of our ability to change the trajectory of an asteroid in a significant and predictable way.
DART’s target is a relatively nearby pair of asteroids, known as the Didymos binary. We’re talking one pretty large asteroid, approximately 780 meters across (Didymos proper) and a 160-metre “moonlet” in its orbit.
Managed by the Planetary Defense Coordination Office, a high-speed spacecraft will be rammed into the path of the asteroid so as to change its motion, and force it out of the path that could see it hit our planet.
Perhaps not so cute.
As the moonlet is more typical of the type likely to threaten Earth — there being more asteroids that are that size and not easily observed — we will be testing the possibility of intercepting one by smashing into it at nearly 15 000 miles per hour [24 100 kilometres per hour].
This will change the speed of the moonlet by a mere fraction of a percent, but enough that its orbit period will be affected measurably.
Knowing exactly how much will help us plan any future asteroid-deflection missions — not surprisingly, there isn’t a lot of existing science on ramming your spacecraft into space rocks.
DART will be the first demonstration of this kinetic impactor technique to change the motion of an asteroid in space, says SciTechDaily.
November 23 marks the first day of the new launch window:
DART is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg in Southern California at 10:20PM on that date [November 23], aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9.
That’ll be around 7:20AM for us on November 24, folks.
If you’re interested, live coverage of the launch will air on the NASA app and the agency’s website.
In the meantime, Vox has a pretty interesting video about the history of asteroids hitting Earth and all the things NASA does to prevent this from happening again:
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