'A new era': NASA DART mission strikes asteroid in key test of planetary defense

    Testing out its planetary defense capabilities, NASA successfully conducts the DART mission after crashing into asteroid Dimorphos.
    By: AFP
    | Updated on: Sep 27 2022, 05:38 IST
    NASA DART Mission in pics: Amazing Attack on Asteroid!
    asteroid
    1/6 NASA with its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission spacecraft is all set to collide with a non-hazardous asteroid called Dimorphos in order to test planetary defence on Monday, September 26. The learnings from this asteroid attack will be used to protect Earth from asteroids that are heading for a collision with our planet. According to NASA, this will be the world's first mission to deflect an asteroid in space. NASA’s DART, built and managed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, will demonstrate and test asteroid deflection by kinetic impactor. (Bloomberg)
    NASA DART Mission
    2/6 Dimorphos, the asteroid moonlet of Didymos poses no threat to Earth. The DART spacecraft had recently got its first look at Didymos, the double-asteroid system that includes its target, Dimorphos. It is being said that in 2024, the European Space Agency (ESA) will send a space probe to Dimorphos as part of the space mission HERA. The aim of the mission is to visually investigate the aftermath of the DART probe impact. (NASA )
    Asteroid
    3/6 When to watch: The live broadcast of the event will start on September 26 at 6 p.m., EDT. The spacecraft will impact its target asteroid at 7:14 p.m. EDT, while at 8:00 p.m. ET, the research organisation will host a post-impact press briefing. (AFP)
    NASA
    4/6 Where to watch: The historic collision can be watched live online as NASA will be broadcasting the same. NASA will broadcast the live coverage of DART’s impact with the asteroid Dimorphos on NASA TV and its several social media handles like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. (AFP)
    DART spacecraft
    5/6 About asteroids: According to NASA, More than 100 tons of dust and sand sized particles are bombarded towards Earth everyday. While, about once a year, an automobile-sized asteroid hits Earth's atmosphere, creates an impressive fireball, and burns up before reaching the surface. Every 2,000 years or so, a meteoroid the size of a football field hits Earth and causes significant damage to the area. Only once every few million years, an object large enough to threaten Earth's civilization comes along. Impact craters on Earth, the moon and other planetary bodies are evidence of these occurrences. (AP)
    Atseorid
    6/6 Space rocks smaller than about 25 meters (about 82 feet) will most likely burn up as they enter the Earth's atmosphere and cause little or no damage. By comparison, asteroids that populate the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and pose no threat to Earth, can be as big as 940 kilometers (about 583 miles) across. (MINT_PRINT)
    NASA DART mission
    View all Images
    NASA DART mission sends a spacecraft to smash into the Dimorphos asteroid to test out its planetary defense capabilities. (AP)

    NASA's DART spaceship on Monday struck the asteroid Dimorphos in a historic test of humanity's ability to prevent a cosmic object from devastating life on Earth.

    Impact occurred at 7:14 pm Eastern Time (2314 GMT), 10 months after the Double Asteroid Redirection Test probe blasted off from California to carry out its first-of-a-kind experiment.

    "We're embarking on a new era, an era in which we potentially have the capability to protect ourselves from something like a dangerous hazardous asteroid impact," said Lori Glaze, director of NASA's planetary science division.

    The 530-foot (160-meter) asteroid Dimorphos -- roughly comparable to an Egyptian pyramid -- which orbits a big brother called Didymos, first appeared as a speck of light around an hour before the collision.

    Its bread bun shape and rocky surface finally came into clear view in the last few minutes as DART raced toward it at roughly 14,500 miles (23,500 kilometers) per hour.

    To be sure, the pair of asteroids pose no threat to our planet as they loop the Sun, passing about seven million miles from Earth at their current "minimized" position.

    But NASA has deemed the experiment important to carry out before an actual need is discovered.

    By striking Dimorphos head on, NASA hopes to push it into a smaller orbit, shaving 10 minutes off the time it takes to encircle Didymos, which is currently 11 hours and 55 minutes -- a change that will be detected by ground telescopes in the days or weeks to come.

    The proof-of-concept experiment will make a reality of what has before only been attempted in science fiction -- notably in films such as "Armageddon" and "Don't Look Up."

    - Technically challenging -

    Minutes after impact, a toaster-sized satellite called LICIACube, which already separated from DART a few weeks ago, was expected to make a close pass of the site to capture images of the collision and the ejecta -- the pulverized rock thrown off by the strike.

    LICIACube's pictures will be sent back in the next weeks and months.

    Also watching the event: an array of telescopes, both on Earth and in space -- including the recently operational James Webb -- which might be able to see a brightening cloud of dust.

    The mission has set the global astronomy community abuzz, with more than three dozen ground telescopes participating, including optical, radio and radar.

    "There's a lot of them, and it's incredibly exciting to have lost count," said DART mission planetary astronomer Christina Thomas.

    Finally, a full picture of what the system looks like will be revealed when a European Space Agency mission four years down the line called Hera arrives to survey Dimorphos' surface and measure its mass, which scientists can currently only guess at.

    - Being prepared -

    Very few of the billions of asteroids and comets in our solar system are considered potentially hazardous to our planet, and none are expected in the next hundred years or so.

    But wait long enough, and it will happen.

    We know that from the geological record -- for example, the six-mile wide Chicxulub asteroid struck Earth 66 million years ago, plunging the world into a long winter that led to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs along with 75 percent of all species.

    An asteroid the size of Dimorphos, by contrast, would only cause a regional impact, such as devastating a city, albeit with greater force than any nuclear bomb in history.

    How much momentum DART imparts on Dimorphos will depend on whether the asteroid is solid rock, or more like a "rubbish pile" of boulders bound by mutual gravity -- a property that's not yet known.

    If it had missed, NASA would have another shot in two years' time, with the spaceship containing just enough fuel for another pass.

    But its success marks the first step towards a world capable of defending itself from a future existential threat.

     

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    First Published Date: 27 Sep, 05:37 IST
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