RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will intentionally crash into a small asteroid next week to test whether it would be possible to redirect a future asteroid that might threaten Earth.
DART will be the first-ever space mission to demonstrate asteroid deflection by “kinetic impactor,” according to NASA.
DART’s target is the binary asteroid system Didymos, which means “twin” in Greek. The system is composed of two asteroids: the larger asteroid Didymos (diameter: 780 meters, 0.48 miles), and the smaller moonlet asteroid, Dimorphos (diameter: 160 meters, 525 feet), which orbits the larger asteroid.
The DART spacecraft will impact Dimorphos nearly head-on, according to the space agency, in theory shortening the time it takes the small asteroid moonlet to orbit Didymos by several minutes.
DART blasted off for its mission on Nov. 24, 2021, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The DART mission is one part of NASA’s larger planetary defense strategy and is the first mission being flown by NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), which was established in 2016.
“DART is turning science fiction into science fact and is a testament to NASA’s proactivity and innovation for the benefit of all,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “In addition to all the ways NASA studies our universe and our home planet, we’re also working to protect that home, and this test will help prove out one viable way to protect our planet from a hazardous asteroid should one ever be discovered that is headed toward Earth.”
NASA said there is no “significant risk” to Earth from an asteroid for the next 100 years, but the PDCO is always working to stay prepared and aware of potential risks.
“We have not yet found any significant asteroid impact threat to Earth, but we continue to search for that sizable population we know is still to be found. Our goal is to find any possible impact, years to decades in advance, so it can be deflected with a capability like DART that is possible with the technology we currently have,” said Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer at NASA Headquarters.
At the time of the impact, the asteroid will be roughly 6.8 million miles from Earth.