What is NASA’s DART mission to deflect an asteroid?

Simulation of the impact of the Dart probe against the asteroid Dimorphos
Illustration: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Since Bruce Willis saved humanity from the impact of a huge asteroid in the movie ArmaggedonWe have all asked ourselves the same question: what would happen if a meteorite headed towards Earth? we would be able to stop it or we would be hopelessly doomed to extinction? Today, on Asteroid Day, we want to explain NASA’s plans in case we ever run into such a threat.

On the one hand, the space agency constantly monitors space looking for potential threats, although the most difficult thing of all is not to detect possible objects that are on a collision course with Earth, but to find an effective mechanism that is capable of deflecting the possible asteroid. This it is precisely the objective of NASA’s Double-Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, which will be carried out in the year 2022 to check whether or not we are able to face such a threat.

The idea behind the mission is simple: launch a probe that hits the asteroid, producing what is known as a “kinetic impact”, a movement that will deflect the asteroid’s trajectory away from our planet, as if it were a billiard carom.

Map with all asteroids and near-Earth objects discovered in the last 20 years. The white line is Earth’s orbit.
Gif: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Right now you may be thinking that it would take a very large ship to deflect one of these celestial objects if we want to modify its trajectory. Nothing is further from reality. The key to the matter is being able to detect the arrival of these asteroids in time, so that the spacecraft only has to produce a brief alteration on the path and time is in charge of effectively diverting the asteroid from our path.

In addition, NASA has not only approached this mission from the theoretical plane, but has already chosen a target to test its new defense system: the asteroid Dimorphos. According to the calculations of the space agency, there are hardly any possibilities (only 0.2%) that this 160 meter diameter asteroid hits our planet, but it represents a perfect opportunity to put NASA’s action plan into action.

So at some point in the summer of 2022, the space agency will launch the DART probe heading towards the asteroid. DART will travel 6.6 kilometers per second, equipped with a camera system that will help you choose the optimal impact zone correctly and with a satellite that will separate from the ship several days before to be able to monitor the moment of impact.

And who knows, if the DART mission fails, we can always try Bruce Willis again.


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