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Earth has been hit by countless space rocks throughout its history, but for the first time we may have the ability to prevent an impact. NASA is ready to test its asteroid-deflection technology for the first time about 6.8 million miles away. This is where DART (the Double Asteroid Redirect Test) is preparing for its impact on the smaller of the two asteroids later today. And you’ll be able to watch it happen.

DART is not a complex spacecraft, nor is it the most expensive with a total cost of just over $300 million. It was launched in late 2021 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Almost all of the mission’s hardware will self-destruct at 7:14 PM ET today, when the thrusters aim to impact Dimorphos, the smaller satellite orbiting 65803 Didymos.

While Didymos is almost a kilometer in diameter, Dimorphos (formerly known as Didymoon) is only 170 meters in diameter. These asteroids cross Earth’s orbit, making them potentially dangerous, but the close relationship of this orbital pair makes an excellent test of asteroid redirection technology. Since 65803 Didymos is not Earth-bound, we do not want to disturb it in any way that could push it toward a future impact, however unlikely. But we can knock Dimorphos as much as we want without significant risk.

So here’s the plan: DART will launch a cubesat to observe its swan song, and then launch itself to the surface of Dimorphos. NASA will analyze how the orbit of the asteroid satellite changes after the impact, which will help us refine the requirements to redirect a real threat to Earth. The European Space Agency (ESA) is also planning a follow-up mission to Didymos-Dimorphos in a few years to collect more data. We’re still learning a lot about asteroids, so the effects of the impact are hard to predict. Some recent research on asteroid composition suggests that many objects could be closer to sticky piles of debris rather than mountains drifting through space. Therefore, it is possible that DART will have a more dramatic effect on Dimorphos than NASA expected.

You will be able to get the story live as it happens today. NASA will broadcast the event live his website and a YouTube channel (above). You will also be able to follow along Twitter and Facebook. The agency plans to go live today at 6:00 PM ET.

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