In an effort to alter its orbit, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraft broadcast its last seconds before slamming into the asteroid Dimorphos. Telescopes on Earth witnessed the crash.
The first actual test of a planetary defence mission by NASA involved smashing a spacecraft into an asteroid. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) involves flying and crashing a 500-kilogram satellite into the 160-meter-wide moonlet Dimorphos, a harmless asteroid, onto its parent asteroid Didymos in an effort to alter Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos.
One day, we might be able to prevent harmful asteroids from striking Earth by using the lessons we learned from the impact. An onboard camera took one photo per second of DART’s dying moments and transmitted it down to Earth.
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Before the stream stopped, its final images showed Dimorphos’ stony surface growing closer and closer. At a press conference, DART Mission Systems Engineer Elena Adams stated, “As far as we can tell, our first planetary defence test was a success.” Several professional and amateur telescopes on Earth, notably the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) in Hawaii, captured the ensuing burst of dust and debris.
Today should see the release of photographs from strong observatories like the Hubble and James Webb space telescopes, as well as images from a spacecraft named LICIACube that travelled to Dimorphos with DART. According to preliminary estimations, DART arrived at the asteroid about 17 metres shy of its original target location after travelling 11 million kilometres from Earth. Finding out if this was sufficient to shorten Dimorphos’ orbit by at least 73 seconds, the required amount for the mission to be judged successful, will take weeks or months. The goal of the DART engineers is to modify the orbit in less than 10 minutes.
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The European Space Agency plans to launch a spacecraft called Hera in 2024 to record the impact’s aftermath in greater detail, in addition to the data gathered from LICIACube and ground-and space-based telescopes.