Science & Tech

Here’s why NASA crashed a $350 million spacecraft into an asteroid

In what is believed to be the world’s first planetary defense mission with the goal of altering the trajectory of a planetary object, NASA’s spacecraft was able to effectively collide with an asteroid.

As predicted, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft collided with the innocuous 530-foot-wide Dimorphos asteroid as part of a daring test mission to deploy technology that one day might be used to deal with a dangerous object headed for Earth. The asteroid was completely unharmed by the collision.

The hit took place approximately 7 million miles from Earth on Monday, September 26 at 7:14 p.m. Eastern Time (4:14 p.m. Pacific Time). It was recorded by a camera that was attached to the DART spacecraft. Extraordinary video, which was transmitted to spectators in a manner that was almost identical to real time, showed the viewpoint of the spaceship as it sped toward the target rock at a speed of 4,000 miles per second. The picture becomes completely black at the instant of collision, despite the fact that Dimorphos is getting larger and larger in the frame.

Researchers will now focus their telescopes on the asteroid Dimorphos in order to measure its trajectory and determine whether or not the force of the spacecraft’s collision was successful in changing the asteroid’s heading. If it did, the mission will have been a tremendous step forward in planetary defense, giving humanity a great chance of avoiding the same fate as the dinosaurs if a large asteroid is ever discovered coming directly for us. If it didn’t, however, the mission will have been a failure.

A commentator for the NASA livestream said just seconds after it was determined that the impact had taken place, “We’re beginning on a new era of humans.” “What an extraordinary thing, we’ve never had that power before; this new era in which we may have the capability to safeguard ourselves from anything like a terrible hazardous asteroid crash is very remarkable,” said one scientist.

The week before last, DART was also responsible for the launch of a camera known as the Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging Asteroids (LICIACube). This will have flown over Dimorphos approximately three minutes after the impact, acquiring high-resolution photographs of the crash site. These images will include the plume of asteroid material pushed up into space by the collision, as well as perhaps the newly formed impact crater.

WATCH | Final Moments of DART mission – asteroid crash:

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