NASA’s DART spacecraft is about to crash into an asteroid

Last week, an Italian-designed CubeSat called the Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging Asteroids (LICIACube) was deployed to monitor the impact with images of the DART-predicted impact site, which may feature a possible crater, plumes of ejected, etc.

The orbital changes the impact will induce in Dimorphos may take months to discern. And a full analysis will take years. In fact, the European Space Agency will launch Hera in 2024 to further study the long-term effects of the DART impact.

In addition to its, uh, groundbreaking primary lens, DART also demonstrates the use of a xenon-powered ion propulsion engine. And DART is small – its core is essentially a 4-foot cube at one end, except for its innovative deployment solar panels.

Although the craft is not large, the mission’s engineering and science teams are, with personnel involved from around the world. One of the effort’s members, Cristina Thomas of Northern Arizona University, who leads the observation task force, simply states, “We’re all very excited.

Video footage of the DART impact

Bruce Willis was at the forefront of his Hollywood effort to prevent an asteroid from devastating Earth. And DART followers will get the next best thing by watching mission coverage on NASA TV. A live stream will begin at 5:30 p.m. EDT, with hosted coverage beginning 30 minutes later. You can tune in to the event directly below, courtesy of NASA TV.

You can also follow Applied Physics Lab mission updates here: https://twitter.com/JHUAPL.

DART is equipped with a high-definition camera that should provide spectacular views of the impact, in a sort of 21st century revival of the lunar impacts made by the 1960s craft called Ranger. Viewers who wish to watch footage from DART’s Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical Navigation (DRACO) live stream can do so directly below.

Several agencies will also be hosting live in-person events, including one in Houston at the Lunar and Planetary Institute. For more information on this program, click here.

DART is set to put on an incredible spectacle, demonstrating humanity’s first cosmic engineering feat. And who knows, the lessons we learn next week might just save us all one day.

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