One of the things you don’t worry about nearly enough is the potential for an asteroid strike on planet Earth. Folks at SpaceX and NASA are worried about it, though. So much so that this week the two space agencies are launching the Double Asteroid Redirection Test or DART mission.
The point, if the name isn’t a complete giveaway, is to crash something into an asteroid to see if it can be shifted out of its path. This might come in handy for an Armageddon situation since we can’t count on Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, and Steven Tyler to save the day.
SpaceX playing DARTs
The SpaceX launch, using a Falcon 9 rocket, is set for 23 November at 10:21 PT — which is tomorrow evening at 20:21 here in South Africa. That’s provided there isn’t any sort of delay, but the mission’s payload is a NASA spacecraft designed to crash into a specific asteroid.
If all goes as planned, the DART will impact Dimorphos, a small asteroid orbiting a larger one called Didymos, sometime in 2022. This isn’t your everyday crash, either. The impact will be at approximately 24,000km/h — hopefully, NASA sees the results it wants in this binary asteroid system.
And at least they’re practising on something non-hazardous to humanity. According to the space agency, “The Didymos system is the ideal candidate for DART because it poses no actual impact threat to Earth, and scientists can measure the change in Dimorphos’ orbit with ground-based telescopes.”
The experiment will be a useful addition to NASA’s Sentry program, which keeps tabs on potential incoming threats. In the event something serious is actually headed our way, we’ll at least know whether we’ve got a chance or whether we watch as it ploughs into our little green-and-blue ball.