Skip to main content

When will we know if NASA’s asteroid defense test was a total success?

It’s official — we’re smarter than the dinosaurs.

NASA has successfully slammed a spacecraft into an asteroid in a historic mission that could one day save Earth from hazardous space rocks spotted coming our way.

Monday’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission was exactly that — a test — targeting a harmless asteroid, called Dimorphos, some seven million miles from Earth.

Targeting the 530-feet-wide rock and then crashing DART into it at 14,000 miles per hour is already a major achievement, but the mission will only be considered a total success if the impact has succeeded in altering the course of the asteroid’s orbit around a larger asteroid, Didymos.

If it has, it means we have the technology to change the path of an incoming asteroid defined as hazardous, directing it away from Earth and potentially saving us from the same fate as the dinosaurs.

So when will we know if the DART mission has been a complete success?

First, DART’s team at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) will need to examine data from ground-based observatories that are tasked with tracking Dimorphos’ path.

According to APL and JPL representatives speaking at a press conference held shortly after Monday’s asteroid impact, we’re going to have to wait “about two months” for “the full quantitative answer.” However, “some pieces of the answer” are likely to trickle out soon, possibly as early as this week.

“The majority of near-Earth objects have orbits that don’t bring them very close to Earth, and therefore pose no risk of impact, but a small fraction of them — called potentially hazardous asteroids — require more attention,” JPL says on its website. “These objects are defined as asteroids that are more than about 460 feet (140 meters) in size with orbits that bring them as close as within 4.6 million miles (7.5 million kilometers) of Earth’s orbit around the sun.”

NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies is constantly monitoring all known near-Earth objects to determine the level of impact risk. And if DART has fully succeeded in its mission goals, we now have the means to send a hazardous asteroid packing.

Editors' Recommendations