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NASA Says DART mission successfully smashed an asteroid aside in deep space

NASA Says DART mission successfully smashed an asteroid aside in deep space


A NASA spacecraft nudged a small, harmless asteroid aside in deep space, the agency announced Tuesday in Washington, D.C., shifting the asteroid’s orbit in a test mission to save the Earth.

NASA scientists confirmed calculations that this first-of-its-kind mission changed the trajectory of its target asteroid, marking a watershed moment for planetary defense, said NASA administrator Bill Nelson in a USA TODAY opinion article published Tuesday.

We’re ‘ready for whatever the universe throws at us’

“This mission shows that NASA is trying to be ready for whatever the universe throws at us,” Nelson said during a briefing at NASA headquarters in Washington.

The 1,260-pound Double Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraft, or DART, collided with the estimated 11-billion-pound, 520-foot-long asteroid Dimorphos at 14,000 mph about 7 million miles from Earth on Sept. 26. The vending-machine-size spacecraft hit about 55 feet from the asteroid’s center. DART was destroyed upon impact.

It took days of telescope observations from Chile and South Africa to determine how much the impact altered the path of the 525-foot asteroid around its companion, a much bigger space rock.

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The agency’s goal was not to destroy the asteroid but shift its orbit around its parent asteroid enough that it changes both of their trajectories as they orbit the sun.

Orbit altered by 32 minutes

Before the impact, Dimorphos took 11 hours and 55 minutes to circle its parent asteroid. Scientists had hoped to shave off 10 minutes, but Nelson said the impact altered the asteroid’s orbit by about 32 minutes.

“DART’s success provides a significant addition to the essential toolbox NASA and humanity should have to protect Earth from a devastating impact by an asteroid,” Nelson said. “This mission required incredible preparation and precision to make impact with an asteroid almost 7 million miles away. NASA exceeded expectations on all counts.”

A 10-month journey

The mission culminated a 10-month-long journey for DART, which cost $325 million. The asteroid orbits a larger one named Didymos, and the two were chosen because they don’t pose any threat to Earth.

“This result is one important step toward understanding the full effect of DART’s impact with its target asteroid,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.

“As new data comes in each day, astronomers will be able to better assess whether, and how, a mission like DART could be used in the future to help protect Earth from a collision with an asteroid if we ever discover one headed our way,” Glaze said.

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