NASA will launch a mission to try a once-in-a-lifetime feat: colliding with a small asteroid and speeding up its orbit. The project, known as the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), is part of NASA’s active planetary defence programme and will launch in late November. Dimorphos, a moonlet asteroid, is a non-threatening asteroid that will be impacted by the DART mission.

It tries to identify huge asteroids that could impact with Earth as part of planetary defence, assess the risk these rocks provide, and strive to avoid disaster if necessary. DART will put one technique to the test by slamming into the smaller moon of an asteroid while humans monitor the moon’s orbital period to see how much it shortens.

“If an asteroid were to strike the Earth, you’d want to use this technique many years, if not decades, ahead of time. You could simply give this asteroid a small nudge, which would result in a significant shift in its future position, and the asteroid and Earth would no longer be on a collision course “At a pre-launch news conference on Thursday, Nancy Chabot, scientist and DART coordination lead at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, said.

There are two phases to the projected planetary defence. The first step entails examining the skies for as many asteroids as possible, then closely watching them so that scientists can calculate their trajectories and compare them to Earth’s orbit far into the future. According to NASA, scientists have discovered over 27,000 near-Earth asteroids, over 10,000 of which are larger than 460 feet (140 metres) in diameter and might cause substantial regional damage.

The second phase involves attempting to deflect the asteroid’s path in order to prevent mankind from dying extinct in the same way that dinosaurs did.

A comparable astriod impact killed out most dinosaurs and other species around 66 million years ago, which planetary security experts are attempting to avoid.

The mission’s goal is to provide scientists with real-world data on how a kinetic impactor method to planetary defence might work in practise.

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