BRISTOL, R.I. (WPRI) — A NASA spacecraft intentionally collided with an asteroid seven million miles from Earth on Monday as part of a planetary defense test, and a local university’s professor is cautiously optimistic it was a success.

Launched in November 2021, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission ended with a bang.

“We crashed a spacecraft the size of a car into an asteroid that is about 500 feet across,” said Adria Updike, a physics professor at Roger Williams University.

The asteroid named Dimorphus and its companion Didymos are of no threat to Earth.

On Thursday, NASA released new images of the DART spacecraft with Dimorphus as seen by the Hubble and Webb Telescopes. The bright spots are ejecta, or material from the asteroid.

Views of DART’s collision with an asteroid seen from the Hubble and Webb Space Telescopes (Courtesy: NASA / Johns Hopkins APL)

“There’s a lot of rocks in space. Rocks are hitting us all the time, mostly little ones that cause shooting stars,” Updike told 12 News Meteorologist T.J. Del Santo on the RWU campus.

“In large cases, they can cause extinction events like what happened to the dinosaurs about 66 million years ago,” Updike added.

The last complete image of Dimorphus from the DART spacecraft. Courtesy: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

That is the purpose of the DART mission — to prevent another mass extinction on Earth by giving the asteroid a slight push and learn from it, just in case another threat pops up. That collision in space could one day being a stepping stone to protecting humanity.

While we do know that the spacecraft successfully crashed into the asteroid, we do not yet know if Dimorphus’ orbit was changed. We should find that out in a matter of days.

“Basically, we’re using telescopes around the Earth as well as Hubble and James Webb to watch the orbit of the asteroid,” Updike said. “The asteroid we hit is orbiting a larger asteroid, and it goes around about every 12 hours. So we assume we’ve changed its directory just a little bit. It should be going around a little bit slower now.”

In 2024, the European Space Agency plans to launch another space craft, Hera, to investigate the asteroid further.