The DART Mission
Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) was a NASA mission aimed at testing a method of planetary defence against near-Earth objects such as asteroids. It was designed to assess how much the kinetic impact of a spacecraft deflects an asteroid by hitting the asteroid head-on. The probe was launched from Earth in November 2021 and, on 26 September 2022, intentionally crashed into Dimorphous - the minor-planet moon of the asteroid Didymos. This was done in an attempt to slow it down and alter its orbit. As a part of NASA’s overall planetary defence strategy, DART’s successful impact with Dimorphous demonstrated a viable mitigation technique for protecting the planet from an Earth-bound asteroid or comet, if one were to be discovered. It is important to note that the asteroid selected for the test posed no actual threat to Earth.
That being said, nearby asteroids and comets can pose a very real threat to Earth - serious damage can be caused by an impact of any size, and larger objects nearer to earth have the potential to cause large-scale destruction, something we have seen in the past, for example, with the asteroid that took out the dinosaurs. If humans do not take the necessary steps to prevent these major impacts, they are bound to occur. This recent breakthrough has created a viable solution to prevent an asteroid or comet from impacting our planet.
Laurie Gleese, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said: “We are on the cusp of entering a new era for humanity, an era in which we will likely have the ability to protect ourselves from something like a dangerous asteroid impact.”
There is a huge difference, unfortunately, between this deflection of an asteroid 560 square feet in size and one large enough to threaten humanity. Nonetheless, DART shows us that this method works, which brings us one step closer to eliminating the asteroid threat.