NASA will intentionally smash space craft into an asteroid – and we can watch

NASA is set to intentionally slam a spacecraft into an asteroid today in a crucial mission that could make history and play a key role in the protection of Earth from space objects.

The mission, which is called Double Asteroid Redirect Mission (DART), hopes to alter the path of an asteroid called Dimorphos, which is around 500 feet in diameter and orbits a larger asteroid called Didymos.

If successful, DART will become the first ever mission to demonstrate asteroid deflection by kinetic impactor.

NASA is hoping that its vending machine-sized spacecraft will knock the small asteroid into a different orbit when it slams the rock head-on at nearly 24,000km/h.

The DART spacecraft was launched back in November last year, but after 10 months the highly anticipated impact is now imminent and NASA will be airing the dramatic action live.

Here's how you can watch it and why the mission is happening.

Why is NASA hitting an asteroid?

Dimorphos, the target asteroid in NASA's DART mission, doesn't actually pose a threat to Earth, and its path doesn't need to be altered because it is not on track to collide with our planet.

However, the DART mission is still incredibly important as the asteroid is being targeted as part of the world's first planetary defence test.

The experiment will establish whether we have the ability to protect Earth from future potentially catastrophic impacts from space objects by deflecting them.

Lindley Johnson, NASA's planetary defence officer, explained: "DART will be the first demonstration of the ‘kinetic impactor' technique in which a spacecraft deliberately collides with a known asteroid at high speed to change the asteroid's motion in space.

"This technique is thought to be the most technologically mature approach for mitigating a potentially hazardous asteroid, and it will help planetary defence experts refine asteroid kinetic impactor computer models, giving insight into how we could deflect potentially dangerous near-Earth objects in the future."

When and how to watch NASA's DART mission

It's expected that NASA's spacecraft will impact Dimorphos at 7:14pm Eastern Time, which is at 11:14pm here in the UK, but the live coverage of the mission begins at 6pm ET, which is 10pm GMT.

NASA will be livestreaming the impact and this can be watched either on NASA TV, NASA's website or NASA TV's YouTube channel.

You can also watch the real-time feed from the DART camera, which will be available on the NASA Live YouTube channel from 9:30pm GMT.

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