Nasa is about to hit an asteroid: the reason

The rocket's liftoff is scheduled for November 24 and can be followed on the space agency's website. Scientists want to measure the effectiveness of a collision with a potentially dangerous celestial body.

All is set for the launch of the rocket carrying the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft with the goal of hitting an asteroid. The takeoff date is Nov. 24 from the United States around 1:20 a.m. local time, which corresponds to 7:20 a.m. in Italy. Coverage of the launch will begin at 6:20 a.m. Italian time and can be followed on Nasa television, the Nasa app and the U.S. space agency's website. DART is headed for the asteroid Didymos, which circles the sun just outside of Earth's orbital path.

Nasa's goal in hitting the asteroid

The spacecraft will arrive near the asteroid between late September and early October next year, and once there, DART will hurl itself at Didymos' smaller companion, the lunar Dimorphos, so that scientists on Earth can measure the effectiveness of a collision aimed at deflecting a potentially dangerous asteroid. Transporting DART into space will be a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and it will depart from Vandenberg Base near Lompoc, California.

What is Didymos, the asteroid that will be hit

Didymos is a binary asteroid system, meaning it has two bodies. The larger one is shaped like a spinning top and measures about 780 meters in diameter, while the smaller one, Dimorphos, measures about 160 meters in diameter, according to NASA. Didymos is a near-Earth object (NEO), which means it approaches Earth within 1.3 astronomical units (120.9 million miles or 194.5 million kilometers). It is not currently considered a threat to our planet and will not be after impact.

Scientists selected Didymos as a DART target because the spacecraft's crash into Dimorphos is expected to shift the moon's orbit into a slightly different path around the larger body. Researchers will then be able to measure changes in the orbital relationship between Dimorphos and Didymos, which will help them calculate how this technique could be used to deflect an asteroid on a collision course with our planet and therefore potentially dangerous.

Among the asteroids on a collision course toward Earth is, for example, 4660 Nereus. While another celestial body that never leaves our planet may not be what it seems.

Stefania Bernardini