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NASA confirms that mission to change orbit of asteroid was a smashing success

The DART space mission proved more successful than anticipated by NASA, suggesting that asteroids on a collision course with earth can be diverted

SHARE NASA confirms that mission to change orbit of asteroid was a smashing success
Aplume of dust and debris blasted from the surface of the asteroid Dimorphos by NASA’s DART spacecraft.

This image made available by NOIRLab shows a plume of dust and debris blasted from the surface of the asteroid Dimorphos by NASA’s DART spacecraft after it impacted on Sept. 26, 2022, captured by the U.S. National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab’s SOAR telescope in Chile. The expanding, comet-like tail is more than 6,000 miles long.

Teddy Kareta, Matthew Knight, NOIRLab via Associated Press

Last month, NASA crashed a spacecraft into an asteroid to see if it could divert the asteroid’s trajectory, and Wednesday the space agency announced that the test was a smashing success. This test stands as the first time humanity has been able to change the course of a celestial object and marks hope that Earth could be protected from any future asteroid impacts.

On Sept. 26, the spacecraft — known as DART, or Double Asteroid Reduction Test — was sent to the asteroid Dimorphous, 7,000 miles away from the Earth, and smashed into it at 14,000 mph, per Time.

Dimorphous is a moonlet of the much larger asteroid Didymos, which is 2,560 feet, to Dimorphous’ 525 feet. The object of NASA’s test was to see if it could change Dimorphous’s course around Didymos. While Dimorphous was relatively small and posed no threat to the Earth, a successful test would mean the possibility of being able to avoid future catastrophic asteroid collisions.

Before DART’s impact, it would take Dimorphous 11 hours and 55 minutes to make one revolution around Didymos. Since DART’s impact, astronomers have been using telescopes on Earth to monitor the revolutions. Wednesday, the team confirmed that the time had been lowered to 11 hours and 23 minutes — a difference of 32 minutes. According to NASA, there is a margin of uncertainty of approximately plus or minus two minutes. Dimorphous now resembles something of a comet, and photos have shown a newly formed dust trail that is 6,000 miles long.

When developing the project, NASA scientists had defined success as being able to change Dimorphous’s orbit by 73 seconds or more. Data collected by the team revealed that DART was able to surpass that goal by more than 25 times.

Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary Science Division at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., was delighted with the results of the mission. “As new data comes in each day, astronomers will be able to better assess whether, and how, a mission like DART could be used in the future to help protect Earth from a collision with an asteroid if we ever discover one headed our way,” Glaze said.

While the full results of DART’s earth-protecting capabilities have not been determined, it is certainly a good start to prove that it is possible to change the velocity of a celestial body, as long as they are detected early enough. NASA confirms that further study needs to be done, and is currently underway, on the physical properties of Dimorphous, such as characteristics of its surface.

“All of us have a responsibility to protect our home planet,” said NASA administrator Bill Nelson in an official statement. “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.”