If you live in California or the southwest United States, you might be in for a launch show Tuesday night (Nov. 23) local time.
The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is scheduled to launch no earlier than 10:20 p.m. PST (1:20 a.m. EST, or 0620 GMT on Nov. 24), on a quest to slightly alter the path of an asteroid moonlet to test planetary defense technologies. (Happily, there are no impending asteroid threats, but NASA still wants the practice for future-proofing.)
Practically speaking, under dark and clear sky conditions, Californians and perhaps those as far south as Las Vegas may get to see the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rise from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. If all goes according to plan, DART will rendezvous with its asteroid target in fall 2022.
“DART will launch on a southerly trajectory and, with clear weather, should be visible from the Southern California coast,” NASA launch director Tim Dunn told Space.com
“I’ll … give folks in the southwest USA and northwest Mexico a heads up that if our crack mission design lead’s estimates are correct, the launch should be visible,” Andy Rivkin, DART investigation co-lead at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, wrote on Twitter Saturday (Nov. 20). “People as far as Vegas have seen launches in the past,” Rivkin added. “I’ll keep you posted.”
Viewing conditions will be complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, which doesn’t allow for easy gathering in groups due to social distancing. There may not be as many public viewing sites available, therefore, as when the NASA InSight mission launched from Vandenberg in 2018.
The rugged terrain of southern California also means that the coast tends to be prone to fog and cold, so make sure to dress warmly and to drive carefully if you happen to be commuting away from your residence.
If you can’t catch the launch in person, there are still online options available through NASA and Space.com. The agency plans a live launch stream and will also have several social events happening for a virtual close-up view of launch preparations.