NASA has completed a major step of its “Double Asteroid Redirection Test” (DART), which involved smashing a satellite about the size of an automaton into a small moon about half a mile in diameter. The moon, Dimorphos, orbits an even bigger asteroid, Didymos, and while neither is in danger of colliding with Earth, they’re good test cases to see if we puny humans destroy them with technology, can cause them to change course.
DART is basically a demonstration of what a Hail Mary pass would be in the event that an asteroid actually threatens Earth – namely, we can use a man-made spacecraft to sufficiently reroute planet killers so they can safely pass our home planet. instead of causing a repeat of the extinction, even the one that wiped out the dinosaurs.
NASA launched DART last November, using a SpaceX Falcon 9 to send the satellite on its collision course with Dimorphos. The DART spacecraft crashed into the asteroid moon at 7:14 p.m. ET Monday night at a speed of about 4 miles per second, confirming the impact in a series of images from the onboard camera.
Next, NASA will collect data on whether DART has actually had its intended effect. That process will take a few weeks and will involve observations from Earth-based telescopes trained on Dimorphos and Didymos, as well as observation in space from the James Webb and Hubble space telescopes. If it turns out this didn’t work as intended, I guess it’s back to the drawing board – my vote is for a fully operational Death Star.