NASA’s Dart mission is getting closer. Officially called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, the spacecraft took its first peeks at Didymosa system of two asteroids that includes its target, Dimorphs.
It’s a suicide mission: the objective is to hit Dimorphos, the smallest of them, on the 26th of September (with 160 meters in diameter, it’s like a mini moon, orbiting Didymos). This is the world’s first real planetary defense test, to see if we could deflect a possible asteroid on a collision course with Earth.
The technique used will be the kinetic impact technique — basically, throwing a ship purposefully and with full force at a body. Not to destroy it, but to slightly alter its orbit through space.
During his last four hours of life, DART will have to adjust its trajectory autonomously to guarantee a perfect impact with dimorphs. And there’s no reason to panic: the asteroid is far away from our planet, which is precisely why it was chosen for the simulation.
On the 26th, starting at 7 pm, NASA will cover the test live on its YouTube channel.
Despite having already “looked at” the asteroid system with its camera system, called Draco (Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical Navigation or “asteroid camera for optical navigation and reconnaissance Didymos”), the ship still has a long way to go to its ultimate destination. More specifically, 32 million kilometers, according to the space agency.
A photo, released by NASA, shows the light of the asteroid Didymos and its orbital moon Dimorphs. It was made from 243 images recorded in July.
“This first set of images is being used as a test to validate our techniques. The image quality is similar to what we could get from ground-based telescopes, but it’s important to show that Draco is working properly and can see his target, in order to make the necessary adjustments.” before we started using the images to guide the spacecraft to the asteroid autonomously,” said Elena Adams, systems engineer for the mission. DART
The mission’s goals are: to demonstrate that a spacecraft can navigate autonomously to kinetic impact, and to prove that this planetary defense technique would be viable in a real threat situation.
More than 65 million years ago, at the end of the so-called Cretaceous Period, a large asteroid collided with Earth, leading to a long nuclear winter that wiped out dinosaurs and resulted in an ice age. Today, there is no threat of this magnitude detected — but it is necessary to be cautious.