Nearly 10 months after it left Earth, a $344 million spacecraftis about to meet an Armageddon-inspired end. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission intentionally crashed on an asteroid to test a unique defence technology.
Nasa is crashing the probe into the binary asteroid system Didymosto test a kinetic impactor technology that could be used in future to save Earth from an incoming asteroid. The spacecraft hit Deimorpos, a moonlet of the Didymos asteroid system, at 24,000 kilometres per hour to slightly change its orbit.
The impact should be just enough to nudge the asteroid into a slightly tighter orbit around its companion space rock — demonstrating that if a killer asteroid ever heads our way, we’d stand a fighting chance of diverting it.
Cameras and telescopes including the James Webb Space Telescopeand the Hubble telescope are tracking the spacecraft, keeping an eye on the asteroid to see the impact.
Dimorphos, about 9.6 million kilometres from Earth, is actually the sidekick of a 2,500-foot asteroid named Didymos, Greek for twin. Discovered in 1996, Didymos is spinning so fast that scientists believe it flung off material that eventually formed a moonlet. Dimorphos — roughly 525 feet across — orbits its parent body at a distance of 1.2 kilometres.
The Dart probe has a single instrument: a camera used for navigating, targeting and chronicling the final action. Believed to be essentially a rubble pile, Dimorphos will emerge as a point of light an hour before impact, looming larger and larger in the camera images beamed back to Earth.
Although the strike itself should be immediately apparent, it could take a few weeks or more to verify the moonlet’s tweaked orbit.