The “bombing” of Demorphos – which will result in the destruction of DART – is expected to change its orbit slightly (by about 1%) so that it orbits Gemini a little closer and faster.
For the first time, humanity will attempt to de-orbit a space rock. If dinosaurs had thought about it, they might still be alive, having avoided a massive asteroid crash on Earth — and on their heads — 66 million years ago.
On Monday night, the most thoughtful and sophisticated human being will attempt exactly what we’ve seen in science fiction movies: deflect an asteroid by launching a car-sized spacecraft, DART, like a NASA (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) rocket.
The $330 million, 550-kilo robotic cube DART is set to crash, after traveling nearly 11 million kilometers from Earth, as it was launched in November 2021 – at 2:14 pm Greek time on Tuesday, September 27 – to the satellite The small Dimorphos (160 meters in diameter) of the larger Gemini asteroid (about 780 meters in diameter). It is the first crucial “rehearsal” for planetary defense should such space rocks pose a threat to Earth in the future.
This is the first test of a technology to deflect/avoid a potentially devastating asteroid. The DART spacecraft hitting the asteroid at 22,000 kilometers per hour will aim to use kinetic energy to move it slightly out of its orbit. Something similar may have to be done in the future with another large asteroid whose orbit is in danger of crossing our planet.
The “bombing” of Dimorphos – which will result in the destruction of DART – is expected to change its orbit slightly (by about 1%) so that it orbits Gemini a little closer and faster. Telescopes coming from Earth will watch to see if this really happened.
At the same time, DART has already since 9/11 launched the Italian-made LICIACube small spacecraft (14 kg) that will approach Dimorphos at a distance of 55 km and its cameras will photograph the effects of the collision. The event will also be monitored by various ground and space telescopes, including James Webb.
The US mission will follow the European Space Agency’s (ESA) HERA mission, which will send a German-made spacecraft, accompanied by two small scorching satellites (the Melanie and Juventus cubes), to Gemini and Demorphos for closer study. The hole to be created, as well as other effects of the DART effect. HERA is expected to launch in 2024 and reach the asteroid and its moon in late 2026.
If DART fails to find its target, it has enough fuel to give it another chance in two years to try again at another space rock. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Baltimore is in charge of the task.
NASA has found more than 27,000 asteroids of different sizes whose orbits bring them close to Earth. Despite progress in detecting asteroids that sometimes come close to our planet, astronomers estimate that only 30% to 40% of NEOs larger than 140 meters in diameter have been detected. This is why it has been recognized that a planetary defense technology must be ready in the event of an unpleasant surprise from above, such as the 10-kilometre-wide asteroid Chicxulub that collided with present-day Mexico and may have wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.
However, if humanity – yet to be born – needs to derail a massive asteroid, like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, the spacecraft it will hit will most likely carry a nuclear bomb or other powerful explosive. In any case, the risk of needing such a planetary defense mission is minimal (though not zero) for at least the next century, according to NASA calculations.
China is preparing for a planetary defense mission similar to the asteroid Bennu in 2026.
NASA TV and ESA TV will broadcast the DART effect live, as well as NASA’s social media (Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube).
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