RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — It’s the size of a school bus, moving more than 14,000 miles per hour, and will crash into an asteroid changing its orbit.
It’s called DART: the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, and it’s one way in making sure our planet stays safe.
“We’re going to impact the moon of this double asteroid system called Dimorphos, we’re going to change its orbit around its larger body called Didymos, so we’re going to redirect it,” explains Andy Rivkin, the Investigation Team Lead for DART. “And it’s a test, it’s an experiment so that we can kind of see how this technique works.”
It sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi movie, but Rivkin says DART is kind of like insurance, we want it just in case, but hope we never have to use it.
So how does it work? Rivkin says to think of the game of pool.
“In this case DART is a very very tiny cue ball and Dimorphos is a gigantic, hopefully not an 8 ball,” he says. “But we hit it as hard as we can just to give that billiard ball just a little bit of a nudge, and that’s enough to change it’s orbit around Didymos in a way that we can measure.”
The speed of this asteroid will only change a small fraction of an inch per second, but that change would be enough to protect the Earth, if we know what’s coming.
“Even that tiny speed change if we were to do it 20 or 30 years ahead of time on a Dimorphos sized object, it would be enough to make it miss the Earth,” Rivkin explains. “And that’s the other piece of planetary defense is finding what’s out there so that way we have the 20 to 30 years warning to be able to use techniques like this.”
While nothing is headed our way now, learning more about what’s out there will keep us protected, just in case.