This illustration shows the DART spacecraft heading toward the asteroid Dimorphos. Image Credit: John Hopkins APL/NASATechnology USA
How Scientists Plan to Save Our Planet from Asteroids
NASA is set to complete the mission of colliding deliberately with an asteroid in order to prove humanity’s capacity to literally save the world, should an asteroid ever threaten to strike Earth.
“We are moving an asteroid,” says Tom Statler, NASA program scientist for the DART mission. “We are changing the motion of a natural celestial body in space. Humanity has never done that before.” The goal is to see if a kinetic impact can deflect any asteroid posing a threat to Earth.
The DART – or Double Asteroid Redirection Test – mission started in November 2021 upon the launch of a spacecraft set to reach the tiny “moon” asteroid Dimorphos – orbiting a larger one called Didymos – on September 26. The spacecraft will attain the speed of 21,600 kilometers per hour, crashing head-on into the moon. Should the impact be successful, the moon’s speed will change by 1%, enough to modify its orbital period. The collision will accentuate the gravitational bound between Dimorphos and Didymos and consequently alter the path of the double-asteroid system. The spacecraft also has its own photojournalist along for the ride to capture images from the mission.