Scientists at NASA are set to obliterate an asteroid on course for Earth by chucking a rocket at it.
The mission, costing £240 million, will see a rocket flying at 23,000 kilometres per hour in the asteroid, which has been named Dimorphos.
And it is hoped that the half-tonne spaceship will annihilate the asteroid, thereby giving Earth cause to worry less about the potential of any planet-destroying rocks hurling our way any time soon.
The mission is being run by NASA’s DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) group, and Andy Cheng, chief scientist at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory told the FT that it was “very exciting”.
He said: “It feels very exciting — like a dream come true — for something we’ve been thinking about for 20 years to be actually happening,
“In a dire emergency, we could take a spacecraft being built for another purpose, tack on a new guidance system and send it up to hit the asteroid.
“We might need more than one spacecraft.”
The impact will take place in September, but the DART spacecraft was actually launched in November.
It carries a satellite made by the Italian Space Agency, which will send data from the impact and its aftermath back to NASA.
Planetary scientist at France’s Côte d’Azur Observatory Patrick Michel said: “What makes this mission so exciting is that previous visits to asteroids by spacecraft — Japan’s Hayabusa2 and Nasa’s Osiris-Rex — have found surprises.
“We know very little about the physical characteristics of Dimorphos apart from its size.
“Modelling of the impact shows a whole range of possible outcomes. The effect of the impact could be multiplied by a factor of five or even eight.”
Objects of Dimorphos’ size also have the potential to explode like nuclear bombs, only many times more powerfully.
Given that Dimorphos is 6.8 million miles away from Earth, it took DART roughly 10 months to get there, and 6.8 million miles is close enough for NASA to observe the results of the collision, making the asteroids perfect for planetary weapons testing.
When DART launched its rocket in November, 2021, NASA’s first-ever Planetary Defence Officer Lindley Johnson insisted that it is crucial we test this technology now, even though there is no immediate threat.
He said: “We don’t want to be in a situation where an asteroid is headed toward Earth and then have to be testing this kind of capability.”
For the latest breaking news and stories from across the globe from the Daily Star, sign up for our newsletter by clicking here.