NASA spacecraft set for head-on collision with asteroid
Laurel, Maryland - NASA aims to make history on Monday with the world's first "planetary defense test" in which a spacecraft slams into an asteroid to redirect its path.
The aim is to protect planet Earth from a potential collision with what NASA terms a near-Earth object (NEO) – asteroids or comets – that could approach our orbit.
NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is the first mission that will attempt to push a dangerous object out of the way by means of a direct experiment, space mission director Thomas Zurbuchen said.
NASA established the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) in 2016 to provide early detection of threats from NEOs of a size large enough – starting at about 100 to 165 feet – to damage Earth's surface and to track their paths.
Astronomers are not currently aware of NEOs that could threaten Earth, but an asteroid impact some 66 million years ago that left a huge crater in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula is believed by many to have led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.
It is designed to smash into an asteroid called Dimorphos at a speed of 4 miles per second, at 7:14 PM EDT on Monday.
"Asteroid Dimorphos: We're coming for you," NASA tweeted at the time of the launch. Dimorphos, which has a diameter of around 530 feet, is a kind of moon orbiting around the larger asteroid Didymos.
DART's accompanying cameras will pick up the asteroid only around 90 minutes before the planned impact.
Charting the course to ensure a head-on collision is "incredibly challenging," NASA's Evan Smith said.
Cover photo: REUTERS