NASA’s Dart Spacecraft to Smash into an Asteroid

September 25, 2022
A photo of an night sky, showing stars and a comet

Sometimes we describe it as running a golf cart into a Great Pyramid.

Nancy Chabot, planetary scientist and mission team leader at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, the leader of NASA’s DART mission. In a first-of-its-kind test, the DART spacecraft plans to smash into an asteroid on Monday.

Why It Matters: In a history-making planetary defense test mission, NASA's DART spacecraft is set to collide into an asteroid about 7 million miles away from Earth. The global effort hopes the spacecraft will knock the asteroid off its course, demonstrating that if an asteroid were to come Earth's way, we would have a chance at diverting it.

DART = Double Asteroid Redirection Test

  • The DART spacecraft is about the size of a refrigerator and launched into space last November. The spacecraft plans to "nudge" an asteroid called Dimorphos (Greek for "two forms") slightly out of its orbit around a larger asteroid called Didymos (Greek for "twin"). Dimorphos, a moonlet (or tiny moon), measures approx. 525 feet in width — the length of more than six tennis courts!
  • At the time of the potential collision, DART will be travelling 14,000 miles per hour.
  • DART's only instrument is a camera which will allow it to distinguish and navigate towards Dimorphos about 50 minutes before impact. Cameras and a "mini tagalong satellite" will take photos of the asteroid before and after the potential impact.
  • If DART does not hit the asteroid, it will circle back for "Take 2" and collide with Dimorphos in a couple of years.

Important To Note: Although cameras and telescopes "on all seven continents" will observe what happens on Monday, "it will take days or even weeks to find out if it actually changed the orbit," The Associated Press reports.

Big Picture: NASA tracks asteroids and comets which could potentially impact and damage Earth. According to NASA's research so far, there are currently no asteroids that will threaten Earth within the next 100 years. However, out of the estimated 25,000 asteroids close to Earth, less than half of them have been found and confirmed.

Why is a NASA spacecraft crashing into an asteroid? (The Associated Press)

NASA Is About to Crash Into an Asteroid. Here's How to Watch. (The New York Times)

WATCH the end of the DART Mission HERE, with live streaming beginning at 6:00 pm Eastern Time.

Check Out Images of NASA's DART Mission to Redirect a Distant Asteroid (The Wall Street Journal)

by Jenna Lee,