NASA has completed the first planetary defense mission in history, in which it launched a small spacecraft and collided with a far-off asteroid.
The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), which was conducted by NASA, has successfully struck a far-off asteroid.
The space agency took to social media to reveal the closing moments of the spacecraft’s approach to the huge binary asteroid Didymos and its moonlet Dimorphos, both of which pose no threat to Earth at this time.
The main goal of NASA’s DART mission was to directly crash with Dimorphos in order to change the asteroid’s orbit.
The DART spacecraft was launched by NASA in November 2021, and even then, it has been making its way toward its destination while traveling tens of millions of kilometers from Earth. The spacecraft’s Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical Navigation, or DRACO, captured many images of a far-off Jupiter on the journey to Dimorphos.
Researchers used DRACO to capture hundreds of images of stars, and it was with the help of these pictures that they were able to confirm that DART’s trajectory cleanly aligned with Dimorphos.
“DART targeted the asteroid moonlet Dimorphos, a small body just 530 feet (160 meters) in diameter. It orbits a larger, 2,560-foot (780-meter) asteroid called Didymos.
“Neither asteroid poses a threat to Earth. The mission’s one-way trip confirmed NASA can successfully navigate a spacecraft to intentionally collide with an asteroid to deflect it, a technique known as kinetic impact,” says NASA.
IMPACT SUCCESS! Watch from #DARTMIssion’s DRACO Camera, as the vending machine-sized spacecraft successfully collides with asteroid Dimorphos, which is the size of a football stadium and poses no threat to Earth. pic.twitter.com/7bXipPkjWD— NASA (@NASA) September 26, 2022
Dimorphos is around the size of a football stadium, according to NASA, and the DRACO camera was able to record the last few seconds before everything became black, or red in the video.
In the last scene of the above video, the DART crew from NASA is shown jubilantly celebrating the impact, which was a historic turning point for Earth. According to NASA, the DART spacecraft is roughly the size of a vending machine.
However, because it is moving at a speed of around 14,000 mph, it is thought to have enough kinetic energy to alter the asteroid’s orbit.