What will be visible when NASA’s DART spacecraft crashes into an asteroid

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — NASA’s double asteroid redirect test aims to make history at 7:14 p.m. ET on Monday when it collides with Dimorphos, a tiny lunar asteroid orbiting the larger asteroid Didymos. The impact, if successful, will slightly alter the motion of the asteroid.

It’s a test of deflection technology that could one day be used to protect Earth if a space rock is determined to be on an impact course with our planet. Currently, no asteroids (Didymos and Dimorphos included) are expected to hit our world.

Here’s what to expect on the day of the event.

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A live broadcast will begin on the NASA website from 6 p.m. ET Monday, and it will last until 7:30 p.m. ET. Then the space agency will hold a post-event briefing to discuss what happened.

The DART spacecraft carries an imager called DRACO, short for Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation, which will share a live stream of images as it approaches the twin asteroid system. These images will be shared at the rate of one per second, providing a video-like experience for viewers.

What starts out as 1 pixel will eventually become an incredibly detailed look at Dimorphos before DART crashes into it.

Humans have never seen Dimorphos before because the asteroid system simply appears as a single point of light in ground-based telescopes.

In the final hour of approach, Dimorphos and Didymos will appear. The stings of light will deepen, revealing the two separate celestial bodies. Scientists will finally be able to determine the shape of Dimorphos, as well as whether its surface is rough or smooth.

“Our last image is probably going to be about two and a half seconds before impact, so DRACO’s field of view is actually going to be completely filled with this beautiful image of Dimorphos,” said Elena Adams, mission systems engineer. DART at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

During the broadcast, expect to hear that the team has lost radio contact with DART. The images will continue to pass and be displayed for about eight seconds after they travel through space to Earth, said Edward Reynolds, DART project manager at the Applied Physics Laboratory.

Also traveling is the Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids, or LICIACube, from the Italian Space Agency. This briefcase-sized CubeSat hitchhiked DART in space and detached from the spacecraft on 9/11.

On the CubeSat are two cameras called LUKE (LICIACube Unit Key Explorer) and LEIA (LICIACube Explorer Imaging for Asteroid). Together they will collect images and help guide LICIACube on its journey.

The small satellite moves a safe distance behind DART to record what is happening.

Three minutes after impact, LICIACube will fly over Dimorphos to capture images and video of the impact plume as it sprays over the asteroid and possibly even spy on the crater it may leave behind. The mini satellite will also glimpse the opposite hemisphere of Dimorphos, which DART will not be able to see until it is erased.

The CubeSat will turn to keep its cameras pointed at Dimorphos as it passes. Days, weeks and months later we will see images and videos captured by the Italian satelliteyou who observed the collision event.

The expected first images of LICIACube could show the moment of impact and the plume it creates.


While the engineering team expects to celebrate a successful impact, astronomers will know it’s time to get to work, said NASA DART program scientist Tom Statler. Ground-based observatories around the world will observe the asteroid system to confirm whether DART succeeded in altering the motion of the asteroid.

The James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble Space Telescope and NASA’s Lucy Mission will also observe the aftermath. The images they collect could reveal an overall brightening of the entire asteroid system, indicating the amount of dust and debris kicked up by the impact, Statler said.

Astronomers will use telescopes on Earth to compare previous observations of the system with those they collect after the event.

Currently, it takes Dimorphos 11 hours and 55 minutes to orbit Didymos. After DART’s impact, this could decrease by 10 minutes – something that can be measured by telescopes on Earth – and ultimately show whether DART was successful.

And don’t expect to see the last of this asteroid system in 2022.

To study the aftermath of the impact, the European Space Agency’s Hera mission will be launched in 2024, and we can expect even more dramatic images of the aftermath.

The spacecraft, along with two CubeSats, will arrive at the asteroid system in 2026, about four years after DART’s mission ended. Once there, Hera will study the two asteroids, measure the physical properties of Dimorphos, and examine the DART impact crater and the moon’s orbit, furthering the overall goal of establishing an effective planetary defense strategy.

The-CNN-Wire & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. company. Discovery. All rights reserved.


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