Nasa‘s asteroid-deflecting DART spacecraft is closing in to its target on Monday, 10 months after launch.
The test of the world’s first planetary defense system will determine how prepared we are to prevent a doomsday collision with Earth.
The cube-shaped “impactor” vehicle, roughly the size of a vending machine with two rectangular solar arrays, was on course to fly into the asteroid Dimorphos, about as large as a football stadium, and self-destruct around 7 pm EDT (11pm GMT) some 6.8 million miles (11 million km) from Earth.
The mission’s finale will test the ability of a spacecraft to alter an asteroid’s trajectory with sheer kinetic force, plowing into the object at high speed to nudge it astray just enough to keep our planet out of harm’s way.
If successful, it will be the first time humanity has changed the motion of an asteroid, or any celestial body. Nasa has a live stream of the event, which you can find at the top of our live blog below.
Nasa live stream of Dart mission counts down to asteroid deflection test
Nasa is providing a live feed from a camera onboard its Didymos space craft for its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART). The Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical Navigation – AKA the Draco camera – is the only instrument onboard.
The real-time stream sends one image of the approaching asteroid per second to Earth. You can watch it live here:
If you’re wondering what you’re looking at, Nasa explains: “In the hours before impact, the screen will appear mostly black, with a single point of light. That point is the binary asteroid system Didymos which is made up of a larger asteroid named Didymos and a smaller asteroid that orbits around it called Dimorphos. As the 7.14 pm EDT (23.14 GMT) impact of asteroid Dimorphos nears closer, the point of light will get bigger and eventually detailed asteroids will be visible.”
Anthony Cuthbertson26 September 2022 18:34
Even as the big Hubble and and James Webb Space Telescopes turn their massive mirrors on the asteroid Dimporphos ahead of Nasa’s Dart impact test Monday evening, there are other, smaller eyes tracking the asteroid.
The Italian space agency’s Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids, or LiciaCube, hitched a ride to Dimorphos on Dart before separating from Nasa’s spacecraft on 11 September. The microwave sized satellite is now following about three minutes behind Dart and will be positioned to observe Dart’s impact on Dimorphos from a safe distance.
Those image likely won’t be available for a day or two, Nancy Chabot told reporters at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory Monday afternoon. Dr Chabot is the a planetary scientist and Dart mission coordination lead at APL.
What LiciaCube will be looking for, she said, are the materials thrown out and away from Dimophos when Dart stikes the asteroid at more than 14,000 miles per hour, materials known as ejecta.
“That is one of main reasons to do the Dart test, is to see how much ejecta,” Dr Chabot said. “This isn’t just billiard balls.”
No one really knows how much ejecta will be generated, because no one has gotten a close up look at Dimorphos, which is about the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza — large for a person, but very tiny when 6.8 million miles from Earth. Depending on what the asteroid is made of and its consistency, there could be more or less material thrown off by Dart’s impact.
One thing is for certain however, Dr Chabot told reporters, in the combat between Dart and Dimorphos,” the spacecraft will lose.”
Jon Kelvey26 September 2022 21:33
All eyes on Dart on Dimorphos Monday
Nasa’s Dart mission is about to attempt the unprecedented in moving a celestial object, the asteroid Dimorphos. But hitting that asteroid is just the first part of the mission, according to Nasa’s Associate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen.
The Hubble Space Telescope, The James Webb Space Telescope, and the Lucy spacecraft, a Nasa mission to the asteroids near Jupiter, will all be focusing on Dimorphos when Dart slams into the asteroid around 7.14pm EDT Monday, Dr Zurbuchen told reporters at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory Monday afternoon.
“The question is will they see a brightening of that object,” he said. “That comes from ejecting dust and having that be hit by the Sun and therefore changing the brightness.”
The images will not be particularly large or clear, Dr Zurbuchen added.
“Just think of the size of these objects, they are minuscule,” he said. “Like seeing a football stadium from many millions of miles away, so that is what we are trying to do.”
Jon Kelvey26 September 2022 21:06
Confidence of Dart’s success is high, but there could be uneexpected holes in the plan
Nasa will know by 7.14pm EDT if the Dart mission was successful in striking the asteroid Dimporphos around 6.8 million miles from Earth.
The world can watch the lead up however, as Nasa TV has begun showing images taken the Dart spacecraft’s navigational camera, known as Draco, according to Robert Braun, the head of the space exploration sector at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), which manages the Dart mission for Nasa.
“What you will see are images coming back from Draco on a 1 per second cycle,” Braun told reporters at APL Monday afternoon. “It will get bigger and bigger in the field of view, and I would suspect the last image may even be a partial image.”
That partial image would be due to the high velocity of Dart, which will strike Dimorphos at 14,400 miles per hour.
And it almost certainly will hit Dimorphos, barring some very unusual circumstances, according to Braun — since Dimporphos is too small to see clearly from Earth, it could hold some surprises yet.
“There are all kinds of crazy scenarios. We don’t know the shape of what we’re goin to hit right now,” Braun told reporters. “Ao if we we’re right on course bu it was shipped like a doughnut, we might fly right through it. But that’s unlikley.”
Jon Kelvey26 September 2022 20:54
Robert Braun told reporters Monday afternoon that when thinking about the Dart mission this morning, it gave him goosebumps — it’s the first time humans will try to change the course of a celestial object.
“Proving the technology to deflect an asteroid,” he said, “that’s something of importance to the entire Earth.”
The mission is also different than most other missions APL has been involved in with Nasa, Braun said. When you’re landing on Mars, for instance, you’re waiting and hoping for a first signal from the lander, and maybe some images.
“Here what we’re waiting for is a loss of signal,” he said. “Here what were cheering for is the loss of the spacecraft.”
Jon Kelvey26 September 2022 20:35
Nasa’s Dart spacecraft is moments away from transitioning to full autonomous navigation, relying on the computer algorithms that will guide Dart the rest of the way on its terminal mission to smash into the asteroid Dimorphos.
“We’re about six minutes away from transitioning to autonomous mode in terms of navigation,” Robert Braun told reporters at a press event at the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory around 3.10pm EDT Monday afternoon. APL and Jet Propulsion Laboratory enginers have been managing the Dart mission for Nasa — and guiding the spacecraft — in the months since it launched in November, 2021.
Nasa and APL will be providing updates and background to the media throughout the afternoon and into the early evening ahead of the Dart impact, which is expected at 7.14pm EDT.
Jon Kelvey26 September 2022 20:12
Nasa says ‘no cause for alarm’ about asteroid mission
Whoever is in charge of Nasa’s social media accounts has been busy over the last couple of hours since posting the theatrical animation of the DART mission.
A lot of users appeared concerned that deflecting the asteroid could have a knock-on effect would lead to unintended damage to other planets or celestial bodies.
“There is no cause for alarm. DART is too small to knock Dimorphos out of its orbit around Didymos,” reads one Twitter reply from the US space agency. “This impact will change the path of the smaller asteroid just enough to be measured by Earth-based telescopes (less than per cent). This asteroid is both well known and well studied.”
Anthony Cuthbertson26 September 2022 19:11
Nasa says Earth ‘strikes back’ against asteroids
Nasa has shared an animation of the DART mission to its official Twitter account, with a dramatic voiceover that rivals any trailer for an apocalypse movie.
“In a galaxy where asteroids have pummelled planets for millions of years, now, one planet strikes back,” it says. “For the first time in our planet’s history, Nasa will test an asteroid deflection technique. It’s the first planetary defence method of its kind.”
Anthony Cuthbertson26 September 2022 17:37
Webb telescope aimed at asteroid
Another of Nasa’s big recent projects, the James Webb Space Telescope, is going to try and have a look at today’s proceedings. It’s pointing towards the asteroid that Nasa will try and smash into today.
Andrew Griffin26 September 2022 16:43
Artemis launch attempt cancelled
Nasa will roll back its Artemis rocket from its launchpad, and give up on launching it any time soon. The decision comes after a run of problems – the most recent being an incoming tropical storm.
(This doesn’t directly affect DART, which is being run entirely separately, but it is a busy day for Nasa!)
Andrew Griffin26 September 2022 15:52