Launch of NASA's DART asteroid mission may be visible from California and the Southwestern US

The launch of NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission will be visible in the night sky over Southern California. Left: The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that will launch the DART mission stands on the launchpad at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, on Nov. 23, 2021. (Image credit: Left: Bill Ingalls/NASA; Right: JHU-APL/Twitter)

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

Related: NASA's DART asteroid-impact mission explained in pictures

"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 (opens in new tab) 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.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace