‘This one’s for the dinosaurs’: how the world reacted to

The crashing of a spacecraft is, for once, a cause for celebration. The Dart (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission on Tuesday marked humanity’s first ever attempt at moving an asteroid in space.

Scientists at Nasa and Johns Hopkins University applauded and hugged each other on Tuesday after Dart, the size of a vending machine, successfully crashed into Dimorphos, a football field-sized asteroid that posed no risk to Earth.

Online viewers and astrophiles also had a field day. One Twitter user created an account with the username “DART the asteroid slayer”, and tweeted: “I’m about to ruin this asteroid’s whole career.” And later: “THIS ONE IS FOR THE DINOSAURS”.

There were many other vengeance-for-the dinosaurs jokes:

we just clapped an asteroid, humans-1 dinosaurs -0

— hasanabi (@hasanthehun) September 26, 2022

Others made light of the spacecraft’s self-destruction:

If DART can crash and explode while being useful in the field of astronomy then so can I

— Chad Popik (@Astro_Chad) September 26, 2022

“No, this is not a movie plot,” Nasa’s administrator, Bill Nelson, said on Twitter on Monday, acknowledging the mission’s fictional antecedent as a sci-fi film trope. Rather than blow Dimorphos up, the agency’s aim was for the collision to deflect it – a technique known as kinetic impact.

Researchers now want to confirm that the impact has altered the asteroid’s orbit. Nasa expects that the orbit of Dimorphos around a larger asteroid – Didymos, which is 780 metres in diameter – will have shortened by about 1%, or roughly 10 minutes.

The successful planetary defence demonstration was visible from Earth, including from the South African Astronomical Observatory and ATLAS (the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System) in Hawaii.

Dart was launched last November and has spent the last 10 months flying in space.

Peter Kalmus, a Nasa climate scientist, pointed out “it’s great that NASA is testing the ability to deflect an asteroid or comet if necessary,” but unlike in the film Don’t Look Up, “the actual clear and present danger to humanity is of course Earth breakdown from burning fossil fuels”.