In the 2021 Netflix film “Don’t Look Up” two astronomers discovered a previously unknown comet expected to impact the Earth in about six months and was large enough to cause a planet-wide extinction event.
Through its comedic twists and turns, a plan was announced to "strike and divert" the comet using nuclear weapons — though something else inevitably happened in the movie. While you'll need to watch the film to find out how things turn out, the "strike and divert" idea is real, and NASA is testing it on Monday night, but it’s trying something a little more subtle.
What happened: A $330 million school bus-sized space probe with propulsion systems made by Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc. AJRD is headed towards an asteroid the size of Egypt's Great Pyramid, and is expected to make a collision at 7:14 pm EST.
NASA's project DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) is a space mission aimed at testing a method of planetary defense against near-Earth objects.
The mission, which launched from Earth in November 2021 using the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, will purposefully crash the space probe into the moonlet Didymos which orbits the larger Dimorphos asteroid, to assess the future potential of a spacecraft's impact to divert an asteroid from colliding with Earth by transferring momentum. In other words, NASA is attempting to use brute force to divert the asteroid from its course by crashing a probe into it.
The asteroid poses no actual threat to Earth; it was merely selected for the test.
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"This really is about asteroid deflection, not disruption. This isn't going to blow up the asteroid," says Nancy Chabot, the DART coordination lead, who says the planned collision is just a nudge that's similar to running a golf cart into the Great Pyramid.
On its website, the space agency will stream live photographs from the kamikaze spacecraft.
The feed will immediately stop when the impact occurs.
Why it matters: A nearby, smaller spacecraft will be keeping watch and sending pictures back to Earth over the next days. The crash and its aftermath will be observed by telescopes on all seven continents, as well as by space telescopes like James Webb, for weeks.
These observations will allow astronomers to precisely calculate how the asteroid's route was altered.
Photo: Courtesy of SciTechTrend on flickr
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