First-ever planetary defense test conducted by NASA’s DART Mission (science news).

NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) successfully struck its asteroid target on Monday, marking the agency’s first effort to redirect an asteroid in orbit after 10 months of space travel.

At 7:14 p.m. EDT, the impact was confirmed by mission control at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

DART’s collision with the asteroid Dimorphos exemplifies a method for safeguarding Earth from an Earth-bound asteroid or comet, and was conducted as part of NASA’s planetary defence strategy.

As a target, DART zeroed in on the tiny asteroid moonlet Dimorphos, which measures about 530 feet (160 metres) in diameter. It is in orbit around Didymos, a bigger asteroid that is 2,560 feet (780 metres) in diameter. Neither asteroid is dangerous to our planet.

The mission’s one-way nature proved that NASA can guide a spacecraft into a controlled collision with an asteroid in order to divert it using a method called kinetic impact.

The study team will now use ground-based telescopes to examine Dimorphos and verify if the asteroid’s orbit around Didymos has been changed as a result of the DART hit. Scientists estimate that Dimorphos’ orbit will be shortened by around 1%, or about 10 minutes, due to the collision; one of the main goals of the full-scale test is to accurately measure the amount by which the asteroid was diverted.

DART was able to identify and distinguish between the two asteroids, with the help of its sole instrument, the Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO), and a highly sophisticated guidance, navigation, and control system working in tandem with Small-body Maneuvering Autonomous Real Time Navigation (SMART Nav) algorithms.

For the last 56,000 miles (90,000 kilometres), these systems piloted the 1,260-pound (570-kilogram) box-shaped spacecraft into Dimorphos, where it crashed at an estimated 14,000 miles (22,530 kilometres) per hour in an effort to somewhat decrease the asteroid’s orbital speed. The surface of Dimorphos was captured in exquisite detail in DRACO’s last photographs, which were taken by the spacecraft within seconds before impact.

Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids (LICIACube), a companion CubeSat donated by the Italian Space Agency, was released from DART fifteen days before impact to take pictures of the collision and the cloud of ejected material from the asteroid. To further evaluate the efficacy of kinetic impact in diverting an asteroid, astronomers hope that LICIACube’s photographs, in conjunction with those returned by DRACO, will offer a glimpse of the collision’s consequences. To avoid overloading LICIACube’s small antenna, photos will be sent back to Earth one at a time during the next several weeks.

A multinational team is using hundreds of telescopes across the planet and in space to watch the asteroid system as it passes within 7 million miles (11 million kilometres) of Earth. DART’s success in deflecting the asteroid will be evaluated over the next several weeks by characterising the ejecta created and accurately measuring the shift in Dimorphos’ orbit. A more accurate prediction of this technique’s potential as a safe approach for asteroid deflection will be possible thanks to the data, which will confirm and enhance scientific computer models.

The European Space Agency’s Hera project plans to perform comprehensive surveys of Dimorphos and Didymos in around four years, with an emphasis on the crater produced by the DART crash and a precise assessment of Dimorphos’ mass.

“At its core, DART represents an unprecedented success for planetary defense, but it is also a mission of unity with a real benefit for all humanity,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told SFcrowsnest. “As NASA studies the cosmos and our home planet, we’re also working to protect that home, and this international collaboration turned science fiction into science fact, demonstrating one way to protect Earth.”

“DART’s success provides a significant addition to the essential toolbox we must have to protect Earth from a devastating impact by an asteroid,” added Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer. “This demonstrates we are no longer powerless to prevent this type of natural disaster. Coupled with enhanced capabilities to accelerate finding the remaining hazardous asteroid population by our next Planetary Defense mission, the Near-Earth Object (NEO) Surveyor, a DART successor could provide what we need to save the day.”

The DART mission is an initiative of NASA’s Planetary Missions Program Office, and it is managed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory on behalf of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office.

First-ever planetary defense test conducted by NASA's DART Mission (science news).
First-ever planetary defense test conducted by NASA’s DART Mission (science news).

One thought on “First-ever planetary defense test conducted by NASA’s DART Mission (science news).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.