A NASA spacecraft called DART has launched on a journey to change the orbit of an asteroid in deep space.
Why it matters: The mission is designed to test technology that could one day be used to change the course of a dangerous asteroid if one is ever found on a collision course with Earth.
Driving the news: The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying DART — short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test — launched at 1:21a.m. on Wednesday.
How it works: DART is now on its way to its target — a small asteroid “moonlet” called Dimorphos in orbit around a larger asteroid called Didymos.
- The two asteroids aren’t in danger of impacting Earth, but this test will serve as a test to see if this technology can shift the orbit of an asteroid just slightly to throw it off course.
- DART is expected to slam into Dimorphos in the fall of 2022.
- “The right time to deflect an asteroid is as far away from the Earth as we can,” Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer for NASA, said during a news conference ahead of launch. “The farther away in space it is… the less force it takes to change the orbit enough that it will be a miss instead of a hit.”
What’s next: NASA and other space agencies are constantly keeping an eye out for potentially dangerous objects that could impact the Earth.
- Future missions, like the Near-Earth Object Surveyor space telescope will be best-equipped to track more asteroids that might threaten our planet.