HomeOutdoorsNewsNASA’s Asteroid-Destroying Mission Broke Apart Over 2 Million Pounds of Rock

NASA’s Asteroid-Destroying Mission Broke Apart Over 2 Million Pounds of Rock

by Suzanne Halliburton
Nicholas Forder/Future Publishing via Getty Images

Let’s go back to late September, when NASA intentionally blew apart a small asteroid. It was all an experiment to see if anyone on Earth could successfully deflect a dangerous space object hurtling its way towards the planet.

NASA did break apart the asteroid known as Dimorphos on Sept. 26. And we’re continuing to find out just how big of a deal that was. The collision pushed more than 2 millions pounds of rocks and dust into space. It’s estimated all the rocks could fill seven rail cars. And to think, Dimorphos was considered a tiny asteroid. But even small objects can do mass damage if they swat into our planet at a high rate of speed.

NASA calls the project DART. It stands for Double Asteroid Redirection Test. Officials discussed the program during the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, which was conducted this week in Chicago.

“What we can learn from the DART mission is all part of a NASA’s overarching work to understand asteroids and other small bodies in our Solar System,” said Tom Statler. He’s the program scientist for DART.

“Impacting the asteroid was just the start. Now we use the observations to study what these bodies are made of and how they were formed — as well as how to defend our planet should there ever be an asteroid headed our way.”

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center captured the final images from DART as it blasted into Dimorphos on Sept. 26. (JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

NASA Studied Space Debris to Determine Momentum Transfer

Dimorphos, which orbited the larger Didymos, never was on track to reach Earth. Rather, NASA needed to find a test asteroid to see if its technology worked. This asteroid was 6.8 million miles away. NASA launched the probe two days before Thanksgiving in 2021. By Sept. 26, the probe finally reached its target, completing its $325 million mission. The probe crashed into the asteroid at 14,000 mph.

NASA used examples that all of us could understand. The probe, with its attached camera, was about the size of a vending machine. Here’s the size of the “tiny” asteroid. NASA likened it to a football stadium. We’re assuming something as big as an NFL or giant college stadium. The probe needed to nudge the asteroid off its path.

And the social media account shared the video of the incredible achievement.

What scientists are measuring now is momentum transfer. The 2 million pounds of debris showed that the asteroid didn’t absorb the probe.

Andy Cheng, one of the leads for the DART investigation team, said that “momentum transfer was one of the most important things we can measure.” That’s how we’ll be able to divert an asteroid in the future.