A NASA craft the size of a vending machine has flown through space on a mission to destroy an asteroid.
You ask why. The target practice is being done.
The DART, short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test, is just a week away from hitting Dimorphos, a 525 foot space rock about the size of the High Roller ferris wheel. The first planetary defense mission for the U.S. space agency is to destroy this $330 million metal box in order to stop an asteroid from hitting us.
The lead engineer of DART's autopilot system said that her heart rate had increased.
NASA engineers inspect the DART spacecraft before it launches off the California coast in November 2021. Credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins APL / Ed Whitman
The mission operations center is 6.8 million miles away from the crash. NASA will be sharing its front-row seat with the rest of the world.
There will be pictures from the camera before the collision. The mission will be broadcasted by NASA at 6 pm. You can share the images publicly as DART beams them down.
The hit will not look like a planet obliterating in the sky, Armageddon-style, with glowing space ripples and chunks of rock blowing off. A type of strategy intended to shove an asteroid off a collision course without creating a massive spray of debris could be dangerous in its own right.
"We call it a golf cart into the Great Pyramid, sometimes," said Nancy Chabot, who is in charge of the project. This is not about disrupting.
"Sometimes we describe it as running a golf cart into the Great Pyramid."
Dimorphos and Didymos are both large asteroids. The pair goes from beyond Mars to just outside Earth's path. Two years is how long it takes for them to complete a loop.
Up to 220,000 pounds of rock will be blasted into space by the smack of the spaceship.
With a new one snapping every second, the images should be spectacular.
The asteroid will initially be seen as a point of light. The frame will eventually hold that speck.
It will fill the field of view at about two minutes out.
More pictures will come afterward from a small spacecraft supplied by the Italian Space Agency called the LICIACube. Credit: Johns Hopkins APL / Ed Whitman
There will be more pictures from the Italian space agency. Three minutes after it flies by the disaster site, the LICIACube will take pictures of the collision and debris with its two cameras. The first pictures from the aftermath won't be made public for a few days.
The Lucy probe is on a 12-year asteroid tour in the outer solar system.
The instruments won't tell NASA how much DART moved the asteroid. The team will need to use telescopes. Dimorphos goes around Didymos every day. Scientists hope to confirm that the collision bumped it closer to the ground, which will shorten its flight time by a few minutes.
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There are millions of asteroids. The rocky rubble from the formation of the solar system is what they are today. The majority of the asteroids are in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter.
The most notorious of which wiped out the dinosaurs was caused by stray asteroids.
Astronomers watch for space rocks in the 30 million mile area. There are no known asteroids that are going to hit Earth. There are 30,000 large objects out there and scientists are keeping an eye on them to make sure they don't turn into earthbound objects. There could be thousands more waiting to be found.
Workers repair a power line near the wall of a local zinc plant which was damaged by a shockwave from a meteor in Chelyabinsk, Russia, on Feb. 15, 2013. Credit: Oleg Kargopolov / AFP via Getty Images
A lot of harm can be caused by small rocks. An undetected meteorite exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, causing an airburst and shockwave that affected six cities. The explosion injured about 1,600 people. According to NASA, the rock was about 60 feet wide.
NASA believes tests like DART are necessary to protect life on Earth in the future.
You would want to do this for planetary defense. It adds up to a big change in position over time if you just give something a little nudging.