NASA Confirms DART Spacecraft Successfully Altered Path of the Asteroid

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No, not the title of a science fiction or some Hollywood script, although it seems very much like it, NASA’s historic test to defend the earth against any potential incoming threatening objects was a success! The US space agency, NASA, recently confirmed that the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) probe spacecraft changed the orbit of a 160m-wide (520ft) asteroid known as Dimorphos when it struck its head last month.

NASA Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft prior to impact at the Didymos binary asteroid system

NASA launched the DART mission in November 2021, shooting a refrigerator-size spacecraft toward a small asteroid. On September 26, the spacecraft smashed into a small space rock, which NASA scientists hoped would adjust its orbit. This strategy, if successful, would enable to defenders of the earth to protect the planet from any incoming asteroids or comets.

If unsuccessful? Well, the mission’s target, Dimorphos, was a harmless space rock posing no danger to Earth then and still. As Yvette Cendes, an astronomer at Harvard University, clarified:

“There is no risk in this case because this was a deliberately chosen target to make sure that this [asteroid crashing on Earth] would not happen.”

However, the spacecraft not only connected with Dimorphos, it altered the space rock’s orbit, shortening its trip around a larger asteroid by 32 minutes. Before DART’s impact, Dimorphos orbited a larger asteroid called Didymos every 11 hours and 55 minutes. An onboard camera took pictures of the fast-approaching asteroid on the day of the crash.

NASA DART spacecraft impacted the asteroid on Sept. 26

As the spacecraft approached, the asteroid’s surface filled the screen, boulders coming into focus before the transmission cut out. DART and its camera had smashed into the very surface it was showing. Thereby, marking the success of “humanity’s first planetary defence test.”

Also adding the defence of planet from hazardous space rocks to the portfolio of NASA, and DART spacecraft was the first mission to test this strategy that could be used in the future if some asteroid or comet attempts to collide with earth. NASA’s Administrator Bill Nelson stated:

“All of us have a responsibility to protect our home planet. After all, it’s the only one we have. This mission shows that NASA is trying to be ready for whatever the universe throws at us. NASA has proven we are serious as a defender of the planet. This is a watershed moment for planetary defense and all of humanity, demonstrating commitment from NASA’s exceptional team and partners from around the world.”

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Hamna M.
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