NASA spacecraft successfully changes asteroid’s course after crashing into it in Earth defence test

Armageddon 2 plot?

Highlights
  • NASA has said that DART successfully deflected the Dimorphous asteroid in a test to save Earth if required in the future. 
  • The impact altered the Dimorphous orbit around its big brother by 32 minutes.
  • The DART’s impact on the asteroid surpasses NASA’s minimum expectation of 73 seconds and above by over 25 times. 

NASA on October 11th confirmed its spacecraft which had historically crashed into an asteroid a few days ago in a suicide mission actually managed to change the latter’s course. The mission was conducted to test if humanity would stand a chance against a celestial body if someday it were to hurl towards our planet. NASA chief Bill Nelson said that the vending machine-sized Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) crashed into the 160-metre Dimorphous asteroid on September 26th, moving it into a smaller but faster orbit around its 780-meters elder sibling Didymous.

Before the DART’s impact, Dimorphous took 11 hours and 55 minutes to orbit around Didymous. After the incident, astronomers closely eyed the asteroid using telescopes on Earth to measure how much the time of the orbit changed. The investigation crew confirmed that the impact altered Dimorphous’ orbit around its big brother by 32 minutes, tapering the orbit time from 11 hours and 55 minutes to 11 hours and 23 minutes.

Initially, NASA expected a minimum success in changing Dimorphos’ orbit is around 73 seconds and above. However, this early report suggests that DART’s impact on the asteroid surpasses NASA’s minimum expectation by over 25 times. The space agency is yet to comment on what impact the debris of the collision may have on Earth, if any.

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

Further, the director says: As new data come in every day, Astronomers will be better able to determine whether and how they could leverage a mission like DART. They believe it could assist missions in the future to defend Earth from a collision with an asteroid if we ever discover one heading our way.

This asteroid duo loops together around the Sun every 2.1 years and currently pose no threat to our planet. The investigation team still gathers data from their observatories and frequently updates the measurement to improve its precision.