On Monday evening, A NASA spacecraft traveling at 400 miles per hour crashed into an asteroid. Although the asteroid poses no threat to Earth, researchers wanted to test if this approach is feasible in case of a future threat of impact.
The asteroid, Dimorphos’s exact size is not known yet but according to some researchers, it’s the size of a stadium — or the Great Pyramid of Giza and is about 7 million miles from Earth at the moment
In the mission operations room, there was wonderment as the images came in. “This asteroid was coming into the field of view for the first time, we had no idea what to expect. We didn’t know the shape of the asteroid, but we knew where we’re going to hit,” said Elena Adams, DART Mission Systems Engineer. “So I think all of us were kind of holding our breath. I’m kind of surprised none of us passed out actually, for a second there.“
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
The mission, known as DART, or the Double Asteroid Redirection Test hit the asteroid Dimorphos at 7:14 p.m. Eastern time. At the time of the collision, Dimorphos was about 6.8 million miles from Earth.
Representative Don Beyer of Virginia, who chairs the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, called the mission “historic” and “a very important step forward for planetary defence.”
Telescopes all over the world (and a few in space!) are now focusing on the collision site. They’ll be watching to see how much the impact altered Dimorphos’ movement. The crash is part of the first practical planetary defence experiment, a test to see if humanity can one day redirect an asteroid’s path toward Earth.
The DART mission raised a myriad of questions: will slamming something into an asteroid change how that asteroid moves? Researchers will soon have an answer to that question because Dimorphos’ orbit takes it between another asteroid (Didymos) and Earth. It will likely take a few months to get full answers.