The Daily Telegraph

Nasa spaceship to collide with asteroid

- By Sarah Knapton

NASA is preparing to crash a space craft into an asteroid, in the first planetary protection mission to prove that a dangerous rock could be deflected if it were on a collision course with Earth.

On Sept 27, the Dart (Double Asteroid Redirectio­n Test) craft will collide with Dimorphos – a 525ft-wide “moonlet”, which is circling a larger asteroid called Didymos.

Dimorphos orbits Didymos approximat­ely every 11 hours 55 minutes, but the team is hoping the 3.1-miles-per-second impact will shorten it by a few minutes.

Astronomer­s on Earth will be watching closely and cubesats (miniature satellites) will be released from Dart before impact to capture images.

Tom Statler, programme scientist at the planetary defence co-ordination office at Nasa, said: “It’s the equivalent of damaging your wrist watch, you might not notice it in the first day, but after a while you would begin to notice that it’s not keeping the time any more and that’s what we’re going to be watching for.

“If something the size of Dimorphos were to hit Earth it could be regionally devastatin­g and could have carryon effects that would affect everyone on the planet.

“Asteroid impacts are a natural hazard that has been an issue for Earth in its entire history, but it’s a natural hazard that can be made preventabl­e.”

The twin-asteroid system orbits the sun every 771 days and is classed as a potentiall­y hazardous asteroid to Earth.

The asteroids, which have never been seen close up, will be around 6.8 million miles from Earth when the collision happens, and it has taken 10 months for Dart to reach them after launching last November.

Once Dart nears the system it will switch on an autonomous navigation system for the final journey

It is humankind’s first planetary defence test and has involved input from nearly 30 countries.

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