Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore played a role in NASA’s successful mission to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid Monday.

The mission known as the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, is part of the effort to protect Earth from a potential asteroid strike, which could be devastating.

Lawrence Livermore scientists have been simulating a spacecraft’s crash into an asteroid since 2014. The scientists specialize in 3-D modeling.

“Lawrence Livermore National Lab has helped advance some of the best practices for impact modeling of DART,” planetary defense project lead Megan Bruck Syal said in a phone interview this week.

At 4:14 p.m. Pacific time Monday, NASA was set to crash the DART spacecraft into the asteroid Dimorphos. It was NASA’s first-ever asteroid deflection test.

A composite image of Dimorphos taken by NASA’s DART spacecraft seconds before impact. (Image via Doug Ellison/NASA)

The change in Dimorphos’s velocity following the crash was expected to be detectable by earth-based telescopes, lab officials said.

Bruck Syal said the deflection test is an important first step for protecting Earth from an asteroid strike. But even before an asteroid is deflected, it must be detected and characterized, including its orbit, Bruck Syal said.

Earth got a wakeup call in 2013 when an asteroid exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, on Feb. 15. The explosion shattered glass that injured more than 1,600 people. That’s just one asteroid that managed to get through Earth’s atmosphere.

“The Chelyabinsk event drew widespread attention to what more needs to be done to detect even larger asteroids before they strike our planet,” said NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson in a statement in 2018. “This was a cosmic wake-up call.”

This is the last complete image of asteroid moonlet Dimorphos, taken by NASA’s DART mission from approximately 7 miles above the surface and 2 seconds before impact. Researchers will study data from the DART mission to determine the asteroid’s composition and how it might affect the ability of future missions to divert the orbit of a similar large object. (Photo via NASA/Johns Hopkins APL)

Bruck Syal said there are many meteors as small as the Chelyabinsk meteor, which was the size of a house. It exploded 14 miles above the ground.

The crash into Dimorphos was not only a test to deflect the asteroid, but also to gain information on its material properties. Dimorphos’s material properties could affect scientists’ ability to deflect it.

Scientists will be taking another look at Dimorphos. The European Space Agency’s Hera Mission is planning a reconnaissance of the asteroid beginning in early 2027.

The information obtained should help scientists understand the asteroid’s properties as well as the crater created by the DART mission.

But even if scientists can narrow down the properties of Dimorphos, they noted that those properties may not be representative of other asteroids that threaten Earth.