NASA’s Dart Probe To Smash Into Asteroid in First Earth Defence Test – Slashdot

Most mission scientists would wince at the thought of their spacecraft being smashed to smithereens. But for those behind Nasa’s Dart probe, anything short of total destruction will be chalked up as a failure. From a report: The $330m spacecraft is due to slam head-on into an asteroid about 11m kilometres above the Indian Ocean soon after midnight on Monday. The impact, at nearly seven kilometres a second, will obliterate the half-tonne probe, all in the name of planetary defence. Not that Dimorphos, the asteroid in question, poses any threat to humanity. The Dart, or double asteroid redirection test, is an experiment, the first mission ever to assess whether asteroids can be deflected should one ever be found on a collision course with Earth. A well-placed nudge could avert Armageddon, or so the thinking goes, and spare humans the same fate as the dinosaurs.

“It’s a very complicated game of cosmic billiards,” said Prof Alan Fitzsimmons, an astronomer and member of the Nasa Dart investigation team at Queen’s University Belfast. “What we want to do is use as much energy [as we can] from Dart to move the asteroid.” With telescopes constantly scanning the skies, scientists hope to have some notice if an asteroid were ever to present a major threat. “If we are able to see far enough in advance and know that an asteroid might be a problem, pushing it out of the way will be much safer than the big Hollywood idea of blowing it up,” said Catriona McDonald, a PhD student at Warwick University. The Dart mission launched from Vandenberg space force base in November last year. On Monday night, mission controllers will hand control to Dart’s software and let the probe steer itself into oblivion.

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