Nasa’s Dart probe to smash into asteroid in first Earth defence test

Most mission scientists would wince at the thought of their spacecraft being smashed to smithereens.

But for those behind Nasa’s Dart probe, anything short of total destruction will be chalked up as a failure.

The $330m (£300m) spacecraft is due to slam head-on into an asteroid about 11m kilometres above the Indian Ocean soon after midnight on Monday.

The impact, at nearly seven kilometres a second, will obliterate the half-tonne probe, all in the name of planetary defence.

Not that Dimorphos, the asteroid in question, poses any threat to humanity.

The Dart, or double asteroid redirection test, is an experiment, the first mission ever to assess whether asteroids can be deflected should one ever be found on a collision course with Earth.

A well-placed nudge could avert Armageddon, or so the thinking goes, and spare humans the same fate as the dinosaurs.