On September 26, NASA plans to use its ‘double asteroid redirection test’ (DART) to slam into an asteroid to see what happens. If this test works, it could be the beginning of a new era for our solar system.
Every day, asteroids fly past our planet. Many of these come quite close (even sometimes too close for comfort) and there are cases in which they are overlooked. NASA typically watches the ones closest to us and are considered a threat, but before the DART system, if one had come so close as to hit us – we were pretty much fair game.
Now, NASA has created the DART system, which pretty much slams into the asteroids so hard, that they are forced to move out of our orbit, or at least that is the idea. The hope is that any asteroid that proves to be a major threat could be eradicated if DART works to avert the disaster.
“These objects are hurtling through space and have of course scarred the moon and, over time, also on Earth have had major impacts, have affected our history,” NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen explained in a statement.
“A series of new missions that we put in place are helping us understand and quantify those threats in an unprecedented fashion,” Zurbuchen added. “DART is a first mission to try to bump out of the way an object of threat in a direct experiment.”
According to Space.com, scientists have identified over 30,000 asteroids that move around Earth’s neighborhood and all of them have crossed paths with Earth. For the most part, smaller objects would stand no chance in our atmosphere. However, if a massive asteroid found its way into our atmosphere, it could destroy our planet if it landed in the right place.
On September 26, NASA intends to launch the DART into a small asteroid called Dimorphos to test it. If it works, it could mean big things for planetary defense. “If DART collides with Dimorphos, and then you don’t see any orbital period change, this would be exceptionally surprising,” explains Nancy Chabot, the DART coordination lead.
“This will give us all confidence that deflection technology could work in the future,” says Andrea Riley, a program executive at NASA. “If it misses, it still provides a lot of data. This is a test mission. This is why we test; we want to do it now rather than when there is an actual need.”