While the news might sound like well-placed exposition scene in a 90's "end of the world" movie, NASA's announcement of a mission to deflect an actual asteroid is as real as it can get. The US space agency has revealed that it will be conducting the world's first mission to redirect an asteroid from space in order to hopefully protect the planet one day from a real worldwide threat. The mission itself is meant to be a test for the "kinetic impactor technique," which is basically a fancy term for smashing into something to change its direction.

Mission details

NASA is planning to launch a new spacecraft called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (Dart) and then smash it into the Didymos asteroid. The vehicle itself is the size of a refrigerator and was designed to accelerate and hit its target asteroid at around 3.7 miles per second. The entire craft will essentially smash into the floating rock at nine times the speed of a bullet, which will hopefully be enough force to significantly change its trajectory.

The target

The Didymos asteroid is actually two separate objects that are in orbit of each other. The name, which is Greek for "twin," was given to it when it was discovered that it was an asteroid binary system. The smaller asteroid called Didymos B, which is around 530 feet across, orbits the bigger rock Didymos A, which is a half a mile across.

The twin asteroid system was chosen as the perfect target so that scientist could better measure the results of the impact without really affecting the pair's orbit around the sun or creating any unwanted debris.

Check out the video below for more details about the mission:

Plan of action

The DART spacecraft is currently still in the design phase, but when it is finished it will be equipped with an on-board autonomous targeting system that will automatically navigate it towards Didymos B.

Earth-based observatories will be looking at the impact to calculate the minute changes in the smaller asteroid's orbit around its bigger twin.

The calculations are vital in determining the capabilities of a direct kinetic impact, which will, in turn, determine whether or not the technique will be effective in deflecting future asteroid impacts.

If the technique is found to be effective, then humanity will now have a solid idea of how to deal with any earth-bound asteroids in the future. The DART mission will work in conjunction with European-led Asteroid Impact Monitoring Mission (AIM) to determine the viability of the kinetic impact technique for asteroid impact mitigation.