NASA will smash a giant asteroid with an airplane at 23,000 km/h to defend Earth.
The £240m mission, dubbed the DART after the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, is expected to take place in September.
Films like Armageddon and Don’t Look Up have dealt artistically with the consequences of existential threats.
Now the real world is taking action to prevent another cataclysmic event, such as the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
The new technology will ram a half-ton spacecraft into a distant asteroid called Dimorphos to deflect it away from Earth.
The movements of Dimorphos are then monitored due to its rare orbit around a larger asteroid called Didymos.
Andy Cheng, a senior scientist at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory and lead researcher, developed the DART concept, reports the Financial Times.
He said: “It feels very exciting – like a dream come true – that something we’ve been thinking about for 20 years is actually happening.”
DART’s main ship was launched in November last year and carries a satellite manufactured by the Italian space agency.
It will measure and monitor the impact, while ground-based telescopes on the back of the Earth, 11 million kilometers away, will record more readings.
Another spacecraft, to be dispatched by the European Space Agency in 2026, will analyze every element of the impact.
Patrick Michel, a planetary scientist at France’s Côte d’Azur Observatory and principal investigator of Hera, said scientists are excited to see what happens.
He said: “What makes this mission so exciting is that previous spacecraft visits – Japan’s Hayabusa2 and Nasa Osiris-Rex – have resulted in surprises at asteroids.
“We know very little about the physical properties of Dimorphos, apart from its size. Impact modeling shows a range of possible outcomes.”
Nasa said, “DART is the first-ever mission dedicated to studying and demonstrating a method of asteroid deflection by altering the motion of an asteroid in space through kinetic impact.”
It comes as the space agency announced it would be keeping an eye on a giant asteroid heading our way.
Asteroid 467460 (2006 JF42) is expected to come close to Earth next week.
The US space agency has included the large space rock in its table of near-Earth approaches.
The asteroid is estimated to be up to 2,756 feet wide.
That’s nearly twice the size of the Empire State Building, which is 1,250 feet tall without its spire or 1,454 feet tall with it.
Luckily, the giant space rock should stay 3.5 million miles from our planet.
When an asteroid gets within 4.65 million miles and exceeds a certain size, cautious space agencies classify it as “potentially dangerous.”
Nasa expects the asteroid to zoom past us at 25,000 miles per hour.
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