By: Nick Gambino
In a plan that sounds like something out of Armageddon, NASA intends to crash a spacecraft directly into a large Asteroid’s moon, in an effort to redirect the space rock.
This is a test of a new system meant to deflect incoming space rocks and save us from any impending disaster. They’re calling this particular mission “Double Asteroid Redirection Test” (DART) and it’s “the first full-scale demonstration of an asteroid deflection technology for planetary defense.”
The spacecraft’s impact on the asteroid’s moon is planned for 2022. The asteroid and its accompanying moon were discovered way back in 1996 and given the name “Didymos” which means “twin” in Greek.
The moon wasn’t given much of its own name and so for the last 20+ years it’s been referred to by the simple title “Didymos B.” That moniker was unofficial, so in anticipation of the test, they’ve given the smaller of the two space-hurdling rocks an official name – “Dimorphos.”
The new name means “two forms” which is fitting if you consider the whole point of the demonstration is to see how a purposeful impact will affect the rock. In other words, they’re going to be looking at the before and after to see how they changed it.
“Upon discovery, asteroids get a temporary name until we know their orbits well enough to know they won’t be lost,” DART investigation co-lead, Andy Rivkin, said in the official NASA announcement. “Once the Didymos system was identified as the ideal target for the DART mission, we needed to formally distinguish between the main body and the satellite.”
Dimorphos measures in at about 525 feet in diameter while the bigger rock is a whopping half mile straight through the middle. Dimorphos’s orbit around the main rock is actually what makes it the best candidate for DART.
Astronomers are going to compare the before and after of Dimorphos to see how much the orbit changes and thus how effective the kinetic impact of the spacecraft was.
As with all things in the vastness of space, we’re dealing with a longer timeframe which is why we won’t see impact until 2022 and won’t obtain the full “after” assessment until 2024.