NASA’s asteroid-shattering spacecraft is just days away from hitting its target at a speed faster than a bullet

It’s finally happening. After about a year of anticipation surrounding NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), the mission will be carried out Monday night, when the spacecraft is expected to crash into its target asteroid.

NASA said Thursday that the mission — the world’s first to test technology to defend the planet from potentially dangerous asteroids or comets — will hit its target asteroid around 10 p.m. 7:14 p.m. ET.

The spacecraft being tested will crash directly into 525 foot moon, called Dimorphos, of the nearby asteroid Didymos. Dimorphos’ size is “more typical of the size of asteroids” that would most likely pose a significant threat to Earth, NASA said earlier. It’s a high-speed mission with the spacecraft set to crash into the asteroid at just under 15,000 mph — faster than a bullet and fast enough to change the speed of moonlight by a fraction of 1%, NASA said.

Neither Dimorphos nor Didymos is currently a threat to Earth. According to NASA, no known asteroid larger than 140 meters (459 feet) has a “significant chance” of hitting Earth in the next century. However, only about 40% of these asteroids have been found as of October 2021.

Illustration of how DART’s impact will change Dimorphos’ orbit of Didymos. Telescopes on Earth will be able to measure the change in Dimorphos’ orbit to evaluate the effectiveness of the DART impact.

NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

“We’re testing to see if you can impact an asteroid and it changes its trajectory if we ever find an asteroid headed for Earth,” Karen Fox, senior science communications officer at NASA, said Thursday.

Katherine Calvin, NASA’s chief scientist and senior climate adviser, said the agency looks at asteroids to better understand the history of the solar system and Earth, but also “to make sure we don’t get in their way.”

“Asteroid impacts have also had profound effects on Earth,” she said. “They’ve changed ecosystems and led to the extinction of species. The dinosaurs didn’t have a space program to help them know what was coming, but we do, and so DART represents an important advance in understanding how to avoid potential dangers in the future and how we protect our planet from potential impacts.”

NASA planetary defense officer Lindley Johnson said that while DART is an “exciting time,” it is also monumental for “human history.”

“This demonstration is extremely important for our future here on Earth and life on Earth,” he said.

Telescopes on every continent on Earth, as well as the Hubble and James Webb space telescopes, will observe the impact of the mission, said DART program scientist Tom Statler.

The agency will give a briefing on the test on Monday at 18.00 and host another after the impact at 8 p.m

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