HAWTHORNE (CNS) – Southland residents could get an impressive pre-
holiday aerial light show tomorrow night when Hawthorne-based SpaceX attempts
to launch a NASA planetary-defense mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base near
Lompoc along the California central coast.
Depending on visibility, night-time rocket launches from Vandenberg
can often create dazzling light spectacles that can be seen across the
Southland and much of Southern California. SpaceX launches can be particularly
impressive, since the company pilots the first stage of its Falcon 9 rockets
back to Earth following separation from the spacecraft being launched into
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to launch at 10:21 p.m.
Tuesday, beginning NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, mission.
The mission, sounding like a Hollywood movie plot, will intentionally
crash a spacecraft into an asteroid to determine if such as effort can
successfully change the asteroid’s course. The idea is to test the technology
to see if it could redirect a future asteroid that might be on a collision
course with Earth.
“While no known asteroid larger than 140 meters in size has a
significant chance to hit Earth for the next 100 years, only about 40% of those
asteroids have been found as of October 2021,” according to NASA’s mission
The DART spacecraft will target an asteroid known as Didymos, which is
orbiting a larger asteroid known as Dimorphos. According to NASA, Didymos —
actually considered a “moonlet” — is about 160 meters in size.
If all goes according to plan, the DART spacecraft in September 2022
will slam into Didymos at a speed of about 14,700 mph.
“The collision will change the speed of the moonlet in its orbit
around the main body by a fraction of one percent, but this will change the
orbital period of the moonlet by several minutes — enough to be observed and
measured using telescopes on Earth,” according to NASA.
Dimorphos and Didymos pose no threat to Earth, and are being targeted
solely as a test mission of the redirection technology. The planned impact by
the spacecraft will occur an estimated 11 million kilometers, or roughly 6.8
million miles, from Earth.
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