NASA‘s Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART probe, collided successfully with the asteroid named Dimorphous today, Monday, Sept. 26. The asteroid was harmless, but NASA wanted to test to see if a maneuver like this would actually work. If it did, it could be used to divert other, harmful, asteroids in the future.
Dimorphous was about 6.8 million miles from Earth, and the DART probe was launched on Nov. 23, 2021. It spent 10 months traveling through space to its target. The point of the $325 million mission was to determine if colliding a probe with an asteroid on the way to Earth would “nudge” it out of the way and change its course. Essentially, a real-world test of new planetary defense technology previously only seen in science fiction. Watch the video of the approach and collision below.
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
DART Probe Successfully Collides With Asteroid, Proving New Technologies Could Work in the Future
The DART probe collided with Dimorphous at about 7:14 pm ET. The probe’s DRACO camera caught first-person footage of the collision. It functioned up until the event when the DART probe smashed against the asteroid. For size comparisons, NASA essentially threw a vending machine at a rock the size of a football stadium at about 14,000 mph. The camera allowed experts to get a look at the amazing surface of the craggy asteroid as the DART inched closer.
A success! The control room burst into cheers and congratulations once the camera feed went dark. This signaled that the probe had successfully collided with the asteroid. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson extended his congratulations to the DART team as well.
“We are showing that planetary defense is a global endeavor and it is very possible to save our planet,” Nelson said, according to a report from NBC News.
How Will NASA Determine If the Asteroid Changed Course?
NBC News reports that it may take up to several weeks for NASA to know if the asteroid changed its course at all. Apparently, the goal was to shorten the asteroid’s orbit. Currently, it sits at a 12-hour orbit, and NASA will consider the mission a success if the orbit is shorted by several minutes.
Additionally, the goal of the DART mission as a whole is to determine if the planetary defense system could avert a “doomsday impact.” If the hypothetical doomsday asteroid is far enough away, and we get to it quick enough, the question is this. Could another DART mission divert that asteroid’s course away from Earth?
Dimorphous orbits near a much larger, 2,500-foot asteroid named Didymos. But, NASA claims that neither asteroid is a threat to Earth. The DART probe was merely a test for the future. And the future of planetary defense is looking pretty good so far.