NASA Hits an Asteroid! DART Mission
By Jamie Li
November 21, 2022
UPDATED 12:00 PM EST
[Photo Credit: NASA]
In Don’t Look Up, a movie directed by Adam McKay, two scientists struggle to warn the public about an incoming comet headed straight for Earth. Through the comedy and the horrifying effects of apathy in the movie, there are plans to use nuclear weapons to hit and divert the comet. Although that may sound impossible, this fiction is turning into reality with the success of NASA’s DART mission. Double Asteroid Redirection Test, also known as DART, is the first defense system launched by NASA that triumphantly impacted an asteroid. Its goal was to collide with an asteroid, Dimorphus, that is not a threat to Earth, and change its path and speed. Dimorphus has a diameter of 160 meters and orbits another asteroid called Didymos, which is 780 meters. This mission is critical regarding the protection of our planet and is an incredible demonstration of human collaboration and planetary defense.
[Photo Credit: TIME]
The impact was on September 26th and researchers expected that the Dimposhos’ orbit would have been shortened by about 1% or around 10 minutes. NASA calculated that minimal success would be an acceleration of 73 seconds or more. At a later conference, the DART team announced the findings about the actual increase in time of the asteroid from the impact. The collision accelerated Dimorphus by 32 minutes! An acceleration a lot greater than even the most optimistic estimates.
Since the collision, four optical telescopes and two radio telescopes have kept an eye on Dimorphus and Didymos. Moreover, the Hubble Space Telescope is watching the Didymos-Dimorphous system. Hubble took photos of the asteroids and the ejecta, the debris trail of rock and dust. The ejecta was blasted thousands of kilometers into space, contributing to the acceleration of Dimorphus. Tom Statler, a DART program scientist, said, “It looks like the recoil from the ejecta blasted off the surface was a substantial contributor to the overall push given to the asteroid, in addition to the push of the spacecraft directly impacting it” (Kluger).
While the impact DART made on Dimorphus is incredible, the question you may be asking is; Will NASA be able to deflect an asteroid coming towards Earth? Since Dimorphus is harmless and relatively static, an asteroid heading towards Earth is a much different situation than DART impacting Dimorphus. It is still not determined yet if NASA can deflect an asteroid coming at Earth. However, the implications of DART are certainly positive and point to a future where people will one day be able to change an asteroid in Earth’s path. In the meantime, NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) will continue to find and track asteroids that may pose a threat to Earth.
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NASA. “Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO).” NASA, NASA,
Talbert, Tricia. “Dart's Final Images Prior to Impact.” NASA, NASA, 27 Sept. 2022,