NASA successfully launched its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) probe to test a technology that could one day deflect distant asteroids that threaten planet Earth. The 1,210-pound spacecraft is on a path to strike a small asteroid named Dimorphos next fall, allowing astronomers to gauge how effective "kinetic impact" can alter the speed and path of incoming space rocks.
- A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying DART was launched Wednesday morning from California's Vandenberg Space Force Base.
- According to NASA, the probe has since unfurled its dual 28-foot-long solar arrays, the "last milestone" in today's launch.
- It is slated to strike the 160-meter-long Dimorphos at a speed of roughly 15,000 mph sometime next September or October.
- Dimorphos, which is approximately 6.8 million miles away, encircles the larger asteroid Didymos, and both orbit the Sun.
- Astronomers hope the impact will alter Dimorphos' orbit within the binary system, although the asteroid moonlet poses no threats to Earth.
- The $325M effort is considered the world's first planetary defense test mission. NASA defines “potentially hazardous asteroids” as those 140+ meters wide and passing within 5 million miles.
- Astronomers say there are no known asteroids believed to pose a risk like that over the next century, though fewer than half of such asteroids have been discovered.