A NASA spacecraft collided with an asteroid on Monday, marking a victory for the agency’s plan in the event that a devastating asteroid collision threatens humanity.
The 1,260-pound DART spacecraft collided with the approximately 11-billion-pound, 520-foot-long asteroid Demorphos at 14,000 miles per hour, some 7 million miles from Earth. The spacecraft crashed about 55 feet from the center of the asteroid.
The spacecraft confirmed the effect more than a week ago when it launched its shoebox-sized camera and escort device, the LICIACube, to film the mission.
Johns Hopkins planetary scientist and mission team leader Nancy Chabot said: “This is a very difficult technical demonstration to hit a small asteroid that we’ve never seen before, with an astonishing amount of energy. way to do it.”
The mission culminated in DART’s 10-month journey at a cost of $325 million. The asteroid orbits a larger planet called Didymos, and the two planets were chosen because they pose no threat to Earth.
“There is a lot of innovation and creativity in this mission, and I believe it will teach us how to one day protect our planet from asteroid strikes,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “We are showing that planetary defense is a global effort and that saving our planet is very possible.”
Visual explainer: Enter NASA’s plan to crash DART spacecraft into asteroid
The DART team stated that there was no need to modify the task, which was exactly what we expected.
Although DART hit Dimorphos as planned, NASA will not know for weeks or even months what will happen after the impact.
“Some things could be in days or even weeks,” mission systems engineer Elena Adams told reporters. “But for a full quantitative answer, I can say months.”
The agency’s goal was not to destroy the asteroid, but to divert its orbit around Didymus enough to alter its course. Demorphos completed its orbit around Didymus in 11 hours and 55 minutes; NASA hopes the collision will shorten its orbit by 10 minutes.
If an asteroid is heading towards Earth, changing the asteroid’s orbit by just 1% is enough, NASA said. There are approximately 30,000 near-Earth objects in our solar system. According to NASA, that means it’s 120.8 million miles from our planet. Over 10,000 NEOs the same size as Dimorphos.
Planetary defense experts would prefer to push a threatening asteroid or comet away with enough leeway, rather than blast it into multiple fragments that could rain down on Earth. Multiple impacts to large space rocks may be required, or a combination of colliders and so-called gravitational tractors, yet-to-be-invented devices that use their own gravity to pull asteroids into safer orbits.
While asteroids of this size are not expected to collide with Earth for the next 100 years, only 40 percent of them have been discovered as of October 2021, NASA says. Millions of small asteroids are known Less than 1% of planets are capable of causing massive damage.
But for now, astronomers say, humans should feel safe.
“Our first test of planetary defense was a success,” Adams said. Earthlings should sleep better.
Contributed by: Associated Press
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