In a mission straight out of Armageddon, NASA will purposely crash a spaceship into an asteroid Monday evening in the hope of changing its orbit. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART for short, is expected to smash into the space rock at 7:14 p.m. ET, and just like the movie, you can watch it all happen: Images captured by the spacecraft will be available via livestream on NASA's website and YouTube account beginning at 6 p.m. ET.
"For the first time ever, we will measurably change the orbit of a celestial body in the universe," Robert Braun, head of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory's Space Exploration Sector in Laurel, Md., told CNN.
Touchstone/Everett Bruce Willis in 'Armageddon'
But in a disappointing departure from the plot of Armageddon, NASA has opted not to train oil drillers to insert a nuclear warhead into the asteroid, which, also unlike the movie, poses no threat of striking the Earth. Instead, a small unmanned spacecraft will ram into the rock — a 525-foot-wide asteroid named Dimorphos — at 13,421 miles per hour. The craft is about 100 times smaller than the asteroid, so it won't blow it to pieces like in the movie, but that's okay: NASA only hopes to change Dimorphos' speed as it orbits a much larger asteroid (named Didymos) by 1 percent.
"Sometimes we describe it as running a golf cart into a great pyramid or something like that," Nancy Chabot, planetary scientist and DART coordination lead at the Applied Physics Laboratory, told CNN. "But for Dimorphos, this really is about asteroid deflection, not disruption."
The impact will occur within 6.8 million miles from Earth, which, compared to the vastness of the solar system, is a relative stone's throw away. But fear not, DART only plans to nudge Dimorphos closer to its 2,560-foot-wide satellite asteroid, and the collision will not increase the likelihood that either object becomes a threat to our planet.
Fortunately, no asteroids we know of are currently on a crash course with Earth. But there are 29,000 known near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) whizzing around us, 2,224 of which are big enough and close enough to be considered potentially hazardous. According to NASA, NEAs that are at least a kilometer wide (3,300 feet) are sufficiently large to cause a global catastrophe. For comparison, the fictional asteroid from Armageddon was a massive 1,000 km wide, or about 100 times the size of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. A study by physics students in England found that Bruce Willis and his team would've needed a bomb nearly 2 billion times stronger than anything available on Earth to blast apart a rock that big.
Data collected from the DART mission will be crucial in determining how we could potentially protect ourselves in the unfortunate event one of these massive space bullets gets too close for comfort.
Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben/NASA Illustration of NASA's DART spacecraft
Watch the mission live via YouTube above.