NASA’s DART spacecraft hits asteroid target in first planetary defense test

NASA's DART spacecraft hits asteroid target in first planetary defense test
Written by boustamohamed31

Sept 26 (Reuters) – NASA’s DART spacecraft successfully hit a distant asteroid at hypersonic speed on Monday in the world’s first test of a planetary defense system designed to prevent a potential meteorite collision with Earth at the end of the world.

Humanity’s first attempt to alter the motion of an asteroid or any celestial body played out in a NASA webcast from the mission’s operations center outside Washington, D.C., 10 months after DART’s launch.

The live stream showed images taken by DART’s camera as the cube-shaped vehicle, no bigger than a vending machine with two rectangular solar arrays, barreled into the football stadium-sized asteroid Dimorphos at 7:14 p.m. EDT (2314 GMT) about 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers) from Earth.

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The $330 million mission, about seven years in the making, was designed to determine whether a spacecraft was capable of altering an asteroid’s trajectory through sheer kinetic force, pushing it off course just enough to keep Earth out of harm’s way .

Whether the experiment succeeded beyond its intended impact will not be known until further observations of the asteroid with a ground-based telescope next month. But NASA officials welcomed the immediate result of Monday’s test, saying the spacecraft had achieved its goal.

“NASA works to benefit humanity, so for us it’s the ultimate fulfillment of our mission to do something like this — a technology demonstration that, who knows, could someday save our home,” NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy, retired astronaut , he said minutes after the impact.

DART, launched by a SpaceX rocket in November 2021, made most of its journey under the guidance of NASA flight directors, with control handed over to an autonomous onboard navigation system in the final hours of the journey.

Monday night’s impact was monitored in near real time from the mission’s operations center at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

Cheers erupted from the control room as second-by-second images of the target asteroid captured by DART’s on-board camera zoomed in and eventually filled the television screen of NASA’s live broadcast just before the signal was lost, confirming that the spacecraft shipwrecked in Dimorphos ..

DART’s celestial target was an elongated “moon” asteroid about 560 feet (170 meters) in diameter that orbits a parent asteroid five times larger, called Didymos, as part of a binary pair of the same name, the Greek word for twin.

Neither object poses a real threat to Earth, and NASA scientists said their DART test could not accidentally create a new hazard.

Dimorphos and Didymos are small compared to the cataclysmic Chicxulub asteroid that hit Earth about 66 million years ago, wiping out about three-quarters of the world’s plant and animal species, including the dinosaurs.

Smaller asteroids are much more common and are of greater theoretical concern in the near future, making the Didymos pair suitable test subjects for their size, according to NASA scientists and planetary protection experts. An asteroid the size of Dimorphos, while unable to pose a threat to the entire planet, could level a large city with a direct hit.

In addition, the relative proximity of the two asteroids to Earth and the double configuration make them ideal for the first proof-of-concept mission of DART, short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test.


The mission represented a rare instance in which a NASA spacecraft had to crash to succeed. DART flew directly into Dimorphos at 15,000 miles per hour (24,000 km/h), creating a thrust that scientists hope will be enough to shift its orbital path closer to its parent asteroid.

APL engineers said the spacecraft was likely smashed into pieces and left a small impact crater in the asteroid’s rocky surface.

The DART team said it expects to shorten Dimorphos’ orbital path by 10 minutes, but will consider at least 73 seconds a success, proving the exercise a viable technique for deflecting an asteroid on a collision course with Earth — if one is ever found.

Nudging an asteroid millions of kilometers away years earlier might be enough to safely redirect it.

Earlier calculations of Dimorphos’ initial location and orbital period were made during a six-day observation period in July and will be compared with post-impact measurements taken in October to determine if and by how much the asteroid moved.

Monday’s test was also observed by a camera mounted on a briefcase-sized mini-spacecraft released by DART days in advance, as well as by ground-based observatories and the Hubble and Webb space telescopes, but images from those were not immediately available.

DART is the latest of several NASA missions in recent years to study and interact with asteroids, primordial rocky remnants from the formation of the solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago.

Last year, NASA launched a probe on a journey to the Trojan asteroid clusters orbiting near Jupiter, while the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft returns to Earth with a sample collected in October 2020 from asteroid Bennu.

The moon Dimorphos is one of the smallest astronomical objects to have a permanent name and is one of 27,500 known near-Earth asteroids of all sizes tracked by NASA. Although none are known to pose a foreseeable danger to humanity, NASA estimates that many more near-Earth asteroids remain undiscovered.

(This story corrected the name in paragraph 6 to Pam from Palm)

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Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Joey Roulette in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Mahler and Stephen Coates

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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