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525-Feet Asteroid Is Right Where It Should Be for Spacecraft to Slam Into It at 15K MPH

There are a lot of exciting things going on over at NASA at the moment. In a few hours from the time of writing, rocket scientists will try to launch the first mission of the Artemis program, opening the doors (hopefully) to the colonization of the Moon by our kind. Later in the month, a human-made spacecraft will slam into an asteroid in what NASA calls “the world’s first attempt to change the speed and path of an asteroid’s motion in space.”
Shot of Didymos as it awaits a human spacecraft to slam into it 6 photos
Double Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraftDouble Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraftDouble Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraftDouble Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraftDouble Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraft
It's this second mission we’re going to focus briefly on right now, after NASA announced it managed to determine and confirm the position of the target piece of floating rock - and it appears the thing is exactly where it should be for the planned encounter on September 26.

The rock is 160 meters (525 feet across), and it’s part of a binary asteroid called Didymos. It floats at about 6.8 million miles (almost 11 million km) away from our planet, and it’s right in the crosshairs of a spaceship called Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART).

Back in July (but we’re only now learning of this), scientists used telescopes to look at Didymos for six nights in a row and found it to be exactly where it should for its encounter with DART.

“The measurements the team made in early 2021 were critical for making sure that DART arrived at the right place and the right time for its kinetic impact into Dimorphos,” said in a statement Andy Rivkin, the DART investigation team co-lead at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

“Confirming those measurements with new observations shows us that we don’t need any course changes and we’re already right on target.”

Launched back in November 2021, the spacecraft’s sole mission is to destroy itself by slamming into the smaller Didymos asteroid at speeds of 15,000 mph (24,140 kph), altering its course and orbit only slightly. Yet, it'll prove humanity could become the first ever species in Earth’s history capable of saving itself from destruction by means of rocks falling out of the sky.

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