Italy Stargazer spots NASA’s DART asteroid effect probe in the night sky after launch

Italy Stargazer spots NASA's DART asteroid effect probe in the night sky after launch

Capturing by Italian Telescope

NASA’s asteroid-smashing mission was photographed by an Italian telescope just after it launched into space this week.

NASA’s DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test Mission), detached from the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket. It launched the space rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California on Tuesday (Nov. 23 PST, or early Nov. 24 EST), according to a new image and video taken by the Elena telescope in Ceccano, Italy. DART was launched on a 10-month voyage to Didymos, a binary asteroid system.

The Visibility of Elena

DART and the booster, both visible as bright spots in the center of the image, were autonomously tracked by the robotic Elena telescope. The stars in the background are the short white lines that surround those two dots. DART was roughly 93,000 miles (150,000 kilometers) from Earth when the photograph was made, Masi said, about half the distance between our planet and the moon.

The telescope also captured a short video sequence of the detached second-stage booster blinking in addition to the static image. The rocket spinning causes the blinking, according to Masi.

The groundbreaking DART mission will conduct a first-of-its-kind test to see if and how a spacecraft may alter an asteroid’s path by crashing into it. In September of next year, the spacecraft will collide with Dimorphos, a 525-foot-wide (160-meter) asteroid “moonlet.” It orbits Didymos, a bigger space rock. The experiment’s purpose is to change Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos, making it shorter by several minutes. This will demonstrate that such an intervention may redirect the trajectory of a huge asteroid if one were to come close to threatening planet Earth in the future.

DART also holds a miniature CubeSat from the Italy’s space agency, known as the LICIACube. This will be launched 10 days prior DART’s self-destructive effect and will picture the after-effects.

The European Space Agency (ESA) will also launch Hera, a larger surveyor spacecraft, to the asteroid system in 2024. This will examine the crater and collect information about Didymos and Dimorphos’ physical structure and chemical composition. Thanks to ground-based measurements, astronomers will know whether DART deflected Dimorphos by then.

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