Washington: A NASA spacecraft was set to smash into an asteroid early on Tuesday, in a bid to test a technology to defend Earth against potential asteroid or comet hazards in the future.
NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), a first such mission, was set to impact its target asteroid -- which poses no threat to Earth -- at 7.14 p.m. on Monday (4.44 a.m. on Tuesday IST).
"This test will show a spacecraft can autonomously navigate to a target asteroid and intentionally collide with it to change the asteroid's motion in a way that can be measured using ground-based telescopes," the US space agency said in an update.
DART's target is the binary, near-Earth asteroid system Didymos, composed of the roughly 780-metre diameter "Didymos" and the smaller, approximately 160-metre size "Dimorphos", which orbits Didymos.
DART will impact Dimorphos to change its orbit within the binary system, and the DART Investigation Team will compare the results of DART's kinetic impact with the asteroid to highly detailed computer simulations of kinetic impacts on asteroids, according to NASA.
"Doing so will evaluate the effectiveness of this mitigation approach and assess how best to apply it to future planetary defense scenarios, as well as how accurate the computer simulations are and how well they reflect the behaviour of a real asteroid," the space agency added.
DART will provide important data to help better prepare for an asteroid that might pose an impact hazard to Earth, should one ever be discovered.