NASA confirms asteroid was successfully moved after crashing spacecraft into it
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Featured Image Credit: NASA
A small spacecraft which deliberately flew into an asteroid millions of miles from Earth has succeeded in shifting the orbit of the space rock, marking the first time humanity has altered the motion of a celestial body, NASA announced on Tuesday.
The $300 million proof-of-concept mission- which is said to have taken seven years to plan properly- also represented the world's first test of a planetary defence system designed to prevent a potential doomsday meteorite collision with Earth.
One day, NASA hopes to be able to deflect any asteroid or comet that comes to pose a real threat to Earth, with the DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) being the first of the upcoming system.
Following the launch, NASA administrator and former astronaut Bill Nelson said: “This mission shows that NASA is trying to be ready for whatever the universe throws at us. NASA has proven we are serious as a defender of the planet."
Nelson, who also served as Florida’s Democratic senator until 2019, told reporters: "This is a watershed moment for planetary defence and a watershed moment for humanity.
"It felt like a movie plot, but this was not Hollywood."
Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary division, added: “Let’s all just take a moment to soak this in. We’re all here this afternoon because for the first time ever, humanity has changed the orbit of a planetary body."
“I am absolutely thrilled about today’s announcement of the orbital period change due to the Dart impact,” said Cristina Thomas, Dart’s principal investigator. “I am constantly impressed by this team and the phenomenal observations that they were able to collect in the two weeks since the impact.
“Our team has been preparing for these observations for years as we worked to understand the pre-impact orbital period and this result is a testament to how prepared we were for this moment.”
Two famous Nasa telescopes, Webb and Hubble, captured the moment the spacecraft collided with an egg-shaped asteroid, named Dimorphos, on September 26.
Roughly the size of a football stadium, the rock orbited a parent asteroid about five times bigger, called Didymos, once every 11 hours, 55 minutes, prior to the intervention.
Following weeks of analysis, it was later confirmed that the DART impactor vehicle, no bigger than a refrigerator, had managed to alter the orbit of the Dimorphos asteroid by 32 minutes following its collision with the enormous space rock.
According to mission control, the asteroid only needed its orbital time changed by around 73 seconds for the mission to be classed as a success.
A Dimorphos-sized asteroid, while not capable of posing a planet-wide threat, could easily level a major city with a direct hit.
During a previous test-flight last year, a Dart rocket was destroyed when it slammed into an asteroid 7,000,000 miles away, at 14,000mph.
But following the successful launch, numerous public figures chimed in to offer their support, including vice-president Kamala Harris.
In a tweet, the vice-president said: “Congratulations to the team at Nasa for successfully altering the orbit of an asteroid. The Dart mission marks the first time humans have changed the motion of a celestial body in space, demonstrating technology that could one day be used to protect Earth.”
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