NASA spacecraft crashes into asteroid in successful planetary defence mission

NASA spacecraft crashes into asteroid in successful planetary defence mission
An illustration of DART prior to impact. Credit: NASA

NASA successfully completed a mission, one that is believed to be a benefit to all humankind, when one of its multi-million dollar spacecrafts successfully collided with an asteroid about half the size of the Eiffel Tower on Monday night.

As part of the world's first planetary defence technology demonstration, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), the spacecraft travelled around in space for ten months before purposefully crashing into the asteroid target Dimorphos, marking the first attempt to do so. The agency said the mission demonstrates a "viable mitigation technique for protecting the planet from an Earth-bound asteroid or comet."

“At its core, DART represents an unprecedented success for planetary defence, but it is also a mission of unity with a real benefit for all humanity,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

The multimillion-dollar spacecraft collided with the asteroid moonlet Dimorphos, a small body that orbits a larger, 780-meter asteroid called Didymos, at roughly 23,000 km/h.

Neither asteroid poses a threat to Earth, but the mission showed that, if a large asteroid hurtling toward our planet, it would be possible to successfully divert it by intentionally colliding with it to deflect it, a technique known as kinetic impact.

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“Planetary Defence is a globally unifying effort that affects everyone living on Earth,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

“Now we know we can aim a spacecraft with the precision needed to impact even a small body in space. Just a small change in its speed is all we need to make a significant difference in the path an asteroid travels.”

Over the coming weeks, NASA will analyse the orbital change of the asteroid to determine how effectively DART deflected it, of which the results will help validate and improve scientific computer models critical to predicting the effectiveness of this technique.

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