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A ship is about to hit an asteroid to deviate its trajectory

For the first time, humanity will try to divert an asteroid from its trajectory. After ten months of space travel, the DART spacecraft, built by NASA, should crash into Dimorphos on September 27.

The American and European space agencies presented the operation Thursday at a press conference. The mission, dubbed DART (dart in English and acronym of “Double Asteroid Redirect Test“), is a life-size test to protect the Earth in the event of a threat.

>> Read also: NASA to deflect an asteroid, a “planetary defense” mission

The mission lifted off in November 2021 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. DART is now approaching Dimorphos, a small moon the size of a football field located eleven million kilometers from our planet, which itself orbits another asteroid. The ship will voluntarily crash on its surface at a speed of 24,000 km/h.

The DART mission plan. [Jim Watson – AFP]

Slightly modified orbit

“The first test is to see if we can send a ship against an asteroid. The second, just as important, is to analyze how the asteroid responds to this impact. Are we able to move the asteroid? ? And with what efficiency?” asks Tom Statler, astrophysicist at NASA.

The DART ship is a hundred times smaller than Dimorphos. If all goes well, the asteroid’s trajectory will be slightly deviated, says Nancy Chabot of the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University.

“The crash of the ship will have a small impact on the trajectory of Dimorphos. The orbit will be modified by approximately 1%, only. It is an effective and safe way to take a first step in the development of this technology”, indicates she.

The impact will be observed and measured with telescopes. When will we be able to know if the mission is a success? Astrophysicists don’t know exactly: maybe minutes or weeks after impact.

>> A video in English from Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory explaining how the DART mission will unfold: