A multi-million dollar spacecraft will collide head-on with an asteroid the size of an unprecedented full-size football field Planetary Defense Test US space agency NASA on Monday evening.
The 570 kg (1,257 lb) spacecraft called Dart – short for the Double Asteroid Redirection Test – is set to smash at high speed into the asteroid Demorphos and self-destruct at around 7 p.m. ET.
The collision between the asteroid and the spaceship — about the size of a vending machine with two rectangular solar arrays — is supposed to unfold about 6.8 miles (11 metres) from Earth.
The test aims to determine if a spacecraft deliberately colliding with an asteroid is an effective way to change its course and avoid a doomsday scenario for Earth. A relatively similar strategy involving a nuclear missile rather than an unmanned spacecraft fails during a key point in the plot of the 1998 Morgan Freeman fantasy film Planets. deep effect.
Dart’s self-destruct poses no threat to humanity, NASA said company spokesman Glenn Nagel.
Monday’s test was the first in a series of “planetary protection missions,” Nagel said.
“We want to have a better chance of doing so than the dinosaurs 65 million years ago,” Nagel said, referring to the theory that prehistoric reptiles that ruled the Earth became extinct when an asteroid hit the planet.
All they can do is look up and go, ‘Hey asteroid,’ Nagel added.
While no known asteroid larger than 459 feet (140 meters) has a high chance of striking Earth for the next century, it is estimated that only 40% of those asteroids have been identified so far.
Cameras and telescopes will monitor the accident, but it will take days or even weeks to see if it actually changed the asteroid’s orbit.
The $325 million planetary defense test that culminated Monday began with the launch of the DART last fall.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
“Infuriatingly humble analyst. Bacon maven. Proud food specialist. Certified reader. Avid writer. Zombie advocate. Incurable problem solver.”