NASA has launched a space probe that will crash into an asteroid in order to test the possibility of throwing a space rock off course if it was heading straight at the Earth.
The Double Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraft (DART) is a $330 million project to test how to steer an asteroid, theoretically threatening the planet, into a different trajectory making use of its 1,200 pound mass. The probe is scheduled to fly head-on into Dimorphos, a 525 foot long asteroid, at the speed of 15,000 mph in September 2022, the Associated Press reported.
“This isn’t going to destroy the asteroid. It’s just going to give it a small nudge,” said Nancy Chabot of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, where the project is being managed.
Dimorphos orbits a larger asteroid known as Didymos. The two space rocks give scientists a better opportunity to measure the change in knocking one off course, as opposed to studying a single asteroid.
DART’s mission is to smash into Dimorphos so that it will orbit closer to Didymos by 10 minutes.
The change in the smaller asteroid’s orbit will be studied on Earth using telescopes.
If the technique is successful, it could be used in the future to throw an asteroid out of position if it threatened the Earth.
Chabot explained that even a small push would “add up to a big change in its future position” thereby knocking the rock off its trajectory.
DART’s mission will take place approximately 6.8 million miles from Earth. The experiment will be streamed until DART hits the asteroid, the impact of which will destroy the craft. Three minutes later, a smaller ship trailer behind will take photos of the impact site.
In October, NASA launched a probe to study asteroids that focused on the trojan asteroids that share Jupiter’s orbit around the Sun.