Right now, a golf cart-sized spacecraft is hurtling toward a tiny asteroid at about 14,000 miles per hour. On Monday evening, it’ll reach its target: a puny space rock.
The spacecraft will slam into the asteroid purpose. It’s a test of NASA’s ability to deflect dangerous asteroids off a collision course with Earth — should the need arise.
NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 in November 2021, with the aim of nudging a space rock into a slightly tighter orbit around its companion asteroid. The $308 million spacecraft traveled 6.8 million miles from Earth to Dimorphos, a small asteroid orbiting the asteroid Didymos.
A livestream of images captured by the spacecraft will be available on NASA’s website beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET. The impact is expected to occur around 7:14 p.m. ET.
«I’m highly confident that we are going to hit on Monday and that there will be a complete success,» Lindley Johnson, NASA’s first planetary defense officer, told reporters at a press conference on Thursday.
Four hours before impact, DART will switch into autonomous mode, steering itself toward its target. If all goes according to plan, the 1,376-pound spacecraft will collide with Dimorphos, altering its orbit around Didymos ever so slightly. Scientists expect the collision to change the speed of Dimorphos by a fraction of 1%.
(The asteroid’s name, Dimorphos, is Greek for «having two forms» and was chosen because the asteroid will have one form before DART crashes into it, and another form after.