The Fleet Science Center will be closed on Monday, December 25.
Boop! DART Impacts an Asteroid
NASA successfully crashed a spacecraft into an asteroid on Monday, September 26. Why did they want to do that? The answer is in the name of the mission.
DART, Double Asteroid Redirection Test, represents humanity’s first attempt to adjust the direction of a celestial object’s orbit. If an asteroid were to approach Earth, the best way to avoid a collision would be to slightly nudge the asteroid into a different orbit. That’s what the DART mission attempted.
The mission’s target was Dimorphos, a small asteroid moonlet orbiting the larger asteroid Didymos. Neither asteroid is a threat to Earth, making the asteroids good test targets for this first planetary defense mission. Dimorphos is small for an asteroid–only about 525 feet in diameter.
The 1260-pound spacecraft took images of Dimorphos up to the moment it hit the asteroid’s surface, while travelling at a rate of about 3 miles per second. The spacecraft likely left a crater on the surface of the asteroid due to its successful impact.
A small companion cubesat, LICIACube, operated by the Italian Space Agency, captured images of DART’s impact and the ejected debris from the collision. This information, with follow-up observations from Earth and an upcoming European Space Agency mission, will allow for an evaluation of the success of diverting an asteroid via collision. Hopefully, we will learn updated orbit information in the next few months.
Congratulations to the entire DART mission team!
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Wishing you clear skies!