Two weeks ago, NASA smashed a refrigerator-sized spacecraft into the asteroid Demorphos. The purpose of the DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission was to test technology that could potentially save us from being hit by an asteroid and suffering the same fate as the dinosaurs. If you’ve been waiting on the edge of your seat to see if the mission succeeded, you’ll be glad to hear that on Tuesday, NASA officially declared the mission a success. * Son *
The mission objective was first to successfully hit the asteroid, which we know was a smash success due to the live broadcast of the collision. The second measure of success was determining whether a kinetic impact actually caused the asteroid to move. On Tuesday, we found out that it was.
At a media briefing, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson triumphantly said: “So today NASA confirms that DART has successfully altered the course of the target asteroid.”
We see: After colliding with a NASA spacecraft, the asteroid Demorphos grows a tail
Before the collision, it took 11 hours and 55 minutes to orbit the larger asteroid Didymos. Since the collision, it has taken Demorphos 11 hours and 23 minutes to orbit Didymus – a change of 32 minutes.
For context, the minimum required to successfully change the orbital period was 73 seconds, according to Laurie Gleese, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. Models the team used before the collision estimated that there could be a change between just a few minutes or several tens of minutes.
Actual results exceeded the team’s expectations.
In fact the ability to move the asteroid is of great importance to the mission because if an asteroid is hurtling towards Earth, the goal will be to move it.
“You know, if you go up and try to move an asteroid to keep it from hitting Earth and it doesn’t move, that’s not successful, is it?” Caroline Ernst, DART DRACO instrument scientist at Johns Hopkins APL, told ZDNET.
We see: The NASA DART mission smashed a spacecraft into an asteroid. What now?
The results were calculated using optical telescopes from around the world as well as radar images to determine the period change. A new image, “the newest and biggest, hot from the press,” according to Glaese, captured by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope on Saturday shows projectiles emanating from Demorphos 285 hours after impact.
Although this mission confirmed that NASA has the technology to deflect the path of a potentially dangerous asteroid, there is no certainty that it will ever succeed in the future.
“We shouldn’t be too anxious about that [say] A single test on a single asteroid will tell us how every other asteroid would behave in a similar situation, said Tom Statler, a program scientist in the Planetary Science Division of the Science Missions Directorate at NASA Headquarters.
If the Earth is faced with the threat of a possible collision, in addition to conducting extensive research on a particular asteroid, it would also be ideal to implement this technique as far in advance as possible.
“If you want to do this in the future, you want to do it years in advance,” Nancy Chabot, DART coordination lead from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), said during the briefing.
Now before you start getting freaked out that NASA needs years in advance to deflect an asteroid’s path, it’s important to remember that NASA maintains an active inventory of all asteroids. Only 40% of those asteroids are large enough to cause territorial damage to Earth, about 140 metres.
So what’s next for the task? Unsurprisingly, more research.
The team plans to learn more about the transfer of momentum from a DART collision with its target and the ejection released upon impact. The recoil from the debris explosion enhanced the thrust from the impact.
“DART has given us some great data on the properties of asteroids and the effectiveness of the Kinetic Collider as a planetary defense technology,” Chabot said. “The DART team continues to work on this rich data set to fully understand the first planetary defense test of asteroid deflection.”