NASA’s DART Asteroid Impact Mission Explained in Pictures

(Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech)

Most of the millions of asteroids in the solar system have their homes circling in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Some of these space rocks, however, are ejected from the belt by Jupiter’s massive gravity and pushed into elongated orbits that bring them much closer to the sun and, in fact, a few million miles or kilometers from us.

Astronomers call them “near-Earth asteroids.” Their closeness to Earth makes them attractive targets for scientists. Earlier this year, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft visited a near-Earth asteroid, Bennu, to collect a sample of its surface and return it to Earth, with delivery scheduled for 2023.

But near-Earth asteroids could also pose a threat to Earth. There are an estimated 25,000 near-Earth asteroids over 500 feet (140 meters) in size, 15,000 of which, scientists believe, have yet to be discovered. Even the smallest of them would be enough to devastate a great city.

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