Nuclear bombs. That’s the go-to answer for incoming space objects like asteroids and comets, as far as Hollywood is concerned. Movies like Deep Impact and Armageddon rely on nukes to save the world and deliver the drama.
But planetary defense experts say in reality, if astronomers spotted a dangerous incoming space rock, the safest and best answer might be something more subtle, like simply pushing it off course by ramming it with a small spacecraft.
That’s just what NASA is getting ready to try, with a spacecraft that’s scheduled to smack into an asteroid at 7:14 pm Eastern time on Monday.
The impact will be the culmination of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), a more than $300 million effort which launched a space vehicle in November of 2021 to perform humanity’s first ever test of planetary defense technology.
“This really is about asteroid deflection, not disruption. This isn’t going to blow up the asteroid,” says Nancy Chabot, the DART coordination lead at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, who says the planned collision is just a nudge that’s similar to “running a golf cart into the Great Pyramid.”