In a news that seemed to appear out of science-fiction, NASA reported that it has rammed a spacecraft into an asteroid in a test designed to prevent potentially dangerous collisions with Earth.
Videos broadcast by NASA show the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft getting closer and closer to the target before it collided with the football-field sized asteroid. “No, this is not a movie plot,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson tweeted earlier in the day.
IMPACT SUCCESS! Watch from #DARTMIssion’s DRACO Camera, as the vending machine-sized spacecraft successfully collides with asteroid Dimorphos, which is the size of a football stadium and poses no threat to Earth. pic.twitter.com/7bXipPkjWD
— NASA (@NASA) September 26, 2022
After ten months of flying in space, NASA’s DART spacecraft hit its target on Monday. It was the first demonstration of planetary defense technology, developed for protecting the planet from an Earth-bound asteroid or comet, if one were discovered.
“DART’s success provides a significant addition to the essential toolbox we must have to protect Earth from a devastating impact by an asteroid,” said Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer. “This demonstrates we are no longer powerless to prevent this type of natural disaster.”
DART targeted the asteroid Dimorphos to check whether a man-made collision could alter the orbital path of the asteroid. Dimorphos is technically an asteroid “moonlet” that orbits an asteroid about five times larger, called Didymos. It was not a threat to planet Earth.
Learning about the impact of the spacecraft on the asteroid is considered important not only for planetary defense, but also to learn more about the nature of asteroids. The full success of the mission will only be determined in the coming months after ground-based and space-based telescope observations are undertaken.