Earth has been pelted by space rocks on a regular basis for the entirety of its existence, and there’s nothing stopping it from happening again. The next big Earth impactor is already out there, and eventually, it’ll make itself known. For the first time, there’s a chance we could stop such an object from clobbering the planet. NASA just launched the DART spacecraft early Wednesday morning (Nov 22) on a mission to test asteroid redirection technology. Next year, it will collide with a space rock called Dimorphos with the aim of changing its orbit.
NASA partnered with SpaceX to launch DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. Its departure from Earth went off without a hitch, too. The spacecraft’s target is a binary asteroid system consisting of Dimorphos (the target) and 65803 Didymos, the larger asteroid around which Dimorphos orbits. These objects cross Earth’s orbit, making them potentially hazardous in the future. 65803 Didymos is almost a kilometer in diameter, so it could cause major devastation if it were to hit Earth. Dimorphos (formerly known informally as Didymoon) has a diameter measured in the tens of meters, small enough that DART might be able to knock it off course.