Without Bruce Willis’s Help, NASA Attempted To Knock A Giant Asteroid Off Its Course — And The Results Are In

NASA APPEL Knowledge

Since 2017, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, AKA NASA, had been wondering what would happen if they launched a spacecraft into an asteroid to knock it off course, instead of using nuclear bombs.

The problem with nukes is that it isn’t necessarily the safest way to destroy an asteroid. In fact, astronomers thought perhaps simply pushing an asteroid off course would be a better option. How to do that? Ramming it with a small spacecraft.  

Referred to as the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, the event was highly anticipated among many. The occurrence was built up over the course of seven years and hundreds of millions of to test planetary defense technology.

The results? Success! At least so far, as the impact successfully disrupted the asteroid.

“As far as we can tell our first planetary defense test was a success,” said Elena Adams, the mission systems engineer. During the experiment, she said that scientists were filled with “both terror and joy” as the spacecraft was launched toward the asteroid, called Dimorphos.

It’ll still be a couple of years until it’ll be clear if the impact of the spacecraft fully geared the asteroid off course.

“This really is about asteroid deflection, not disruption. This isn’t going to blow up the asteroid,” said Nancy Chabot, the DART coordination lead at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

Don’t worry—Dimorphos is around 7 million miles away from Earth, and isn’t a threat to the planet. It is about 525 feet in size and is currently orbiting another asteroid that’s even larger. In theory, the impact will shorten the time it takes for Dimorphos to orbit this asteroid.

“There is no scenario in which one or the other body can become a threat to the Earth,” says Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the science mission directorate at NASA. “It’s just not scientifically possible, just because of momentum conservation and other things.”

Still, the event was a success, and is jus tone step closer to finding a way to deflect an asteroid that actually is a threat to Earth.

“The bottom line is, it’s a great thing,” says Ed Lu, Executive Director of the Asteroid Institute. “Someday, we are going to find an asteroid which has a high probability of hitting the Earth, and we are going to want to deflect it.”

If any of this sounds eerily similar to the plot of the movie Armageddon, that’s because it is. In fact, DART invited Bruce Willis, the star of the 1998 hit film, to attend, but he wasn’t too into the idea.

Perhaps that’s because it isn’t EXACTLY the same as the movie. “The idea of a kinetic impactor is definitely not like [the movie] ‘Armageddon,’ where you go up at the last hour and you know, save the Earth,” Nancy Chabot, Johns Hopkins planetary scientist and DART team member, said in 2019. “This is something that you would do five, 10, 15, 20 years in advance — gently nudge the asteroid so it just sails merrily on its way and doesn’t impact the Earth.”

Oh well…still Willis’ loss, right?