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It’s DART’s big day: Asteroid collision just hours away

The DART spacecraft is prepared for launch.
Enlarge / The DART spacecraft is prepared for launch.

Monday will see NASA’s first attempt at real-world testing of a technology that it hopes can protect the Earth from the dangers posed by impacts from large asteroids. The Double Asteroid Redirect Test, or DART, will smash a spacecraft into a small asteroid called Dimorphos at 7:14 pm EST in the expectation that the impact will alter Dimorphos’ orbit around the nearby large asteroid Didymos. If successful, then we can have some confidence that we can alter the orbit of small objects that pose a threat of colliding with Earth, sending them off into orbits where they no longer create a risk of catastrophic impact.

There are still things that can go wrong. As we detailed earlier, the camera on DART won’t even be able to resolve its target until under two hours prior to the collision, and the final trajectory to impact will be handled by its onboard software, rather than controllers on Earth.

NASA will be hosting pre- and post-impact briefings for the press, which Ars will be attending, so expect updates later today. One option if you want to watch is NASA TV’s coverage, which will start at 6 pm EST.

If that’s a bit too fast-paced for you, a half an hour later will see a livestream of images transmitted by the spacecraft’s DRACO camera at a stately one frame per second. These will be the images the onboard navigation system will use to navigate to its target; in the final image before impact, you can expect to see objects less than a meter across on the asteroid’s surface.

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