It’s going to be the greatest asteroid show since “Armageddon.”
NASA is going to practice saving the Earth Monday night when it rams a space probe into an asteroid at 15,000 miles per hour in an attempt to prove it can deflect planet-threatening space rocks.
The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission is set to collide with a 530-foot-wide interplanetary body named Dimorphos at 7:14 p.m. in an event that will be livestreamed by the space agency on its website starting at 6 p.m.
The space rock — which is some 6.5 million miles from Earth — holds no threat to the planet, but is a perfect subject to test a new system that could knock a dangerous asteroid off course, scientists says.
DART will collide with Dimorphos aiming to knock it out of its 12-hour orbit, scientists say. The spacecraft — which is the size of a compact car — will be destroyed, but the collision will be documented by a small satellite called LICIACube that will trail behind.
The mission aims to “evaluate the effectiveness of this mitigation approach and assess how best to apply it to future planetary defense scenarios,” according to the space administration.
Bruce Betts, the chief scientist at the nonprofit Planetary Society, reportedly said the mission is “a big step forward for humanity.”
“The thing that makes this natural disaster different is that if we do our homework, we can actually prevent it,” he told NBC News. “That’s a huge difference compared to a lot of other large-scale natural disasters.”
If an asteroid was hurtling toward Earth, knocking the rock just slightly off course would be enough to save the planet, Betts told the network.
“It depends on the size of the object and how much warning time you have, but you do indeed just need to change the orbit a little bit,” he said.
Dimorphos, which orbits an even larger rock called Didymos, is far smaller than the 12-kilometer asteroid that created an impact that killed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, according to NASA.
An asteroid would have to be larger than 1 kilometer to threaten civilization on Earth, and such an impact happens once every few million years, NASA estimates.
The $325 million mission will likely only benefit future generations, as no known asteroid larger than 450 feet is projected to hit the Earth over the next century, according to the Planetary Defense Coordination Office. However, only 40% of the space rocks that could pose a threat to Earth during that span have been detected so far.