After an asteroid collided with a NASA probe, it left a massive trail of broken rock and debris spanning 6,200 miles. However, the crash was on purpose. The intentional asteroid strike was an experiment by the space agency to see if an impact could change an asteroid’s course with a probe.
Last week, NASA launched the specifically-designed, multi-million dollar Dart probe into the asteroid, dubbed Dimorphos. After the crash, a telescope in Chile captured stunning images of the asteroid, which showed a long, bright tail behind it.
“It is amazing how clearly we were able to capture the structure and extent of the aftermath in the days following the impact,” said Teddy Kareta, one of the astronomers studying Dimorphos.
Now, NASA scientists are still working to determine whether their experiment was successful and whether the asteroid changed its course.
NASA conducted their experiment on an asteroid 11 million miles away from our planet, with no possible danger of hitting the Earth.
Currently, the space agency is closely watching the orbit of the Dimorphos asteroid around another asteroid called Didymos. They’re attempting to see if the probe’s interference has altered its direction.
If scientists find that Dimorphos’ path has been changed, this could indicate that we could use artificial devices to alter the direction of other asteroids. Now, scientists hope that similar devices could save the pantlet should a future looming asteroid head for Earth.
NASA probe could potentially prevent fatal asteroid impacts forever
Director of Planetary Science at NASA, Dr. Lori Glaze, has said she is happy with the mission so far, saying “we potentially have the capability to protect ourselves from something like a dangerous hazardous asteroid impact.”
She added: “What an amazing thing; we’ve never had that capability before.”
In the past, asteroid strikes have wreaked havoc here on Earth. In 2013, a 60-foot space rock injured 1,500 people and damaged thousands of buildings in Russia. Now, NASA hopes to keep that from happening again.
DART is the first major project of a NASA department called the Planetary Defense Coordination Office. Glaze leads the division that oversees planetary defense.
“The ones that really are the civilization-ending-size asteroids, we know; we’ve already found 99% of those,” Glaze said. “The smaller ones that could have regional damage, there are some out there that we don’t know about. So, we’re actually right now already building the next telescope, a space telescope called the Near-Earth Object Surveyor (NEO Surveyor), to search the sky 24 hours a day.”
According to NASA, in four years, the European Space Agency’s Hera project will again survey Dimorphos and Didymos. They will focus on the crater left by DART and Dimorphos’ mass. Scientists say the crater may measure 10 to 20 meters.
Though there is still much to examine surrounding DART’s impact, experts call it a mission accomplished.