Updated Nov 24, 2021 - Science

NASA probe launches on mission to redirect an asteroid

A screenshot of NASA's DART mission spacecraft launching into space.
Photo: NASA

A NASA spacecraft called DART has launched on a journey to change the orbit of an asteroid in deep space.

Why it matters: The mission is designed to test technology that could one day be used to change the course of a dangerous asteroid if one is ever found on a collision course with Earth.

Driving the news: The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying DART — short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test — launched at 1:21a.m. on Wednesday.

How it works: DART is now on its way to its target — a small asteroid "moonlet" called Dimorphos in orbit around a larger asteroid called Didymos.

  • The two asteroids aren't in danger of impacting Earth, but this test will serve as a test to see if this technology can shift the orbit of an asteroid just slightly to throw it off course.
  • DART is expected to slam into Dimorphos in the fall of 2022.
  • "The right time to deflect an asteroid is as far away from the Earth as we can," Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer for NASA, said during a news conference ahead of launch. "The farther away in space it is... the less force it takes to change the orbit enough that it will be a miss instead of a hit."

What's next: NASA and other space agencies are constantly keeping an eye out for potentially dangerous objects that could impact the Earth.

  • Future missions, like the Near-Earth Object Surveyor space telescope will be best-equipped to track more asteroids that might threaten our planet.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include NASA's Twitter post.

Go deeper