A NASA spacecraft successfully deflected an asteroid’s orbit on Monday by colliding with it seven million miles away, passing a historic test of humankind’s capacity to stop a celestial object from destroying life on Earth.
Ten months after taking off from California on its ground-breaking mission, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) impactor successfully impacted its target, the space rock Dimorphos, at 7:14 pm Eastern Time (2314 GMT). According to Lori Glaze, head of NASA’s planetary science division, “we’re entering a new era, one in which we might be able to defend ourselves from something like a dangerous hazardous asteroid impact.”
Dimorphos, a 530-foot (160-metre) asteroid about the size of an Egyptian pyramid, orbits Didymos, its half-mile long big brother. The “moonlet,” which had never been seen before, first appeared as a speck of light about an hour before the collision.
In the last few minutes, as DART raced toward it at about 14,500 miles (23,500 kilometres) per hour, its egg-like shape and craggy, boulder-dotted surface came into clear view. The screen froze on a final image, indicating that signal had been lost and impact had occurred, and NASA scientists and engineers burst into applause.
The two asteroids, which circle the Sun every two years, are undoubtedly not a threat to our planet.
However, NASA has decided that it is crucial to conduct the experiment even in the absence of a clear need.
NASA hopes to reduce Dimorphos’ orbit by striking it directly, cutting the time it currently takes to encircle Didymos—11 hours and 55 minutes—by 10 minutes.
In the upcoming days and weeks, a precise orbital period should be available from ground telescopes, which can detect changes in the patterns of light coming from the asteroid system but cannot directly observe it.
What was previously only attempted in science fiction, most notably in the movies “Armageddon” and “Don’t Look Up,” has become reality thanks to the proof-of-concept.