The best way to push an asteroid off course isn’t necessarily bombing it. All you really need to do is gently push it off course with a small spacecraft.
That’s the opposite of how Hollywood would portray it — but the manner in which NASA would actually try to tackle the job.
In fact, NASA had actually scheduled for a spacecraft to collide into an asteroid and nudge it off course, as part of its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (or fittingly, DART, for short).
NASA To Crash Spacecraft Into Asteroid To Test Planetary Defense
“This really is about asteroid deflection, not disruption,” said DART coordinator Nancy Chabot. “This isn’t going to blow up the asteroid.”
But before you get too concerned, well, don’t worry. The asteroid hurling toward us isn’t actually a threat.
“There is no scenario in which one or the other body can become a threat to the Earth,” said 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.”
Either way, the whole process is pretty cool. An asteroid is being moved off course, an act that seemed impossible even as recently as 30 years ago.
“We’re moving an asteroid. We are changing the motion of a natural celestial body in space. Humanity has never done that before,” says Tom Statler, NASA’s DART program scientist. “This is stuff of science fiction books and really corny episodes of Star Trek from when I was a kid, and now it’s real. And that’s kind of astonishing that we are actually doing that, and what that bodes for the future of what we can do.”