NASA is about to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid 7 million miles from Earth, and really, who wouldn’t want to watch that?
The Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, will ram a tiny moon of the asteroid Didymos on Monday, in the first test of a planetary asteroid defense system. If all goes well, the spacecraft’s kinetic impact (it’s travelling at more than 14,000 mph) will knock the 560-foot-wide moonlet, named Dimorphos, off course, much like a shot when playing pool. It’s the first big test of a defense system that could one day avoid catastrophes by deflecting asteroids that are on a collision course with Earth.
The spacecraft will send images up until the point of impact. The LICIACube satellite will take pictures of the impact and debris plume and transmit them back to Earth, which should take a couple of days.
And don’t worry, even if the test fails, the asteroid is far enough away from Earth and poses no threat of hitting us.
The DART mission was launched in November 2021. The spacecraft’s final guidance from scientists came Sunday, and after that it will “autonomously guide itself to its collision with the asteroid moonlet,” according to NASA.