The results of NASA’s ambitious DART planetary mission are in, and the results are very good indeed.
In a historic announcement on Tuesday, the space agency confirmed that for the first time, humanity has succeeded in changing the orbit of a planetary body, suggesting we now have a way to protect ourselves against hazardous asteroids spotted coming our way.
This just in: The #DARTmission impact is confirmed to have changed the orbit of moonlet Dimorphos around its asteroid Didymos.
— NASA (@NASA) October 11, 2022
NASA and its international partners achieved the feat in a test mission last month that involved smashing the refrigerator-sized DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) spacecraft into the 525-feet-wide (160 meters) Dimorphos asteroid at 14,000 mph (22,530 kph) to see if the force of the impact would alter the course of the harmless space rock. The moment of impact, which took place millions of miles from Earth, was streamed almost in real time.
Dimorphos is orbiting the larger Didymos asteroid, and since the September 26 impact, telescopes on the ground have been gathering data to determine if the crash had any effect on the asteroid’s orbit around Didymos.
In news that has the potential to save humanity from the kind of cataclysmic impact that is believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs, the investigation team said it was able to confirm that the spacecraft’s impact altered Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos by 32 minutes, shortening the 11 hour and 55-minute orbit to 11 hours and 23 minutes. This measurement, it said, has a margin of uncertainty of around plus or minus 2 minutes.
Prior to the impact, NASA had defined a minimum successful orbit period change of Dimorphos as 73 seconds or more, with the initial data showing that DART surpassed this minimum benchmark.
“All of us have a responsibility to protect our home planet, after all, it’s the only we have,” NASA chief Bill Nelson said in response to news of the DART’s success. “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.”
The Maryland-based Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory built and operated the DART spacecraft and manages the DART mission for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office as a project of the agency’s Planetary Missions Program Office. The mission team will continue to study the Dimorphos asteroid so that it can fully understand this first planetary defense test involving asteroid deflection.
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