A NASA space probe has deliberately crashed into an asteroid to carry out the first live planetary defense test in history.
It may be familiar from disaster movies, when, in order to prevent a devastating impact from an asteroid heading towards Earth, a brave team tries to divert the object to avoid us, earthlings. Until now, this was science fiction, and no one knew if it was even possible.
But on the night of 27 September 2022, NASA carried out its first live test of planetary defense by deliberately driving one of its space probes into an asteroid. The mission titled the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) was designed to use the impact to increase the orbital period of the 160-meter-diameter Dimorphos, a small moonlet orbiting the 780-meters-wide asteroid, Didymos. DART launched from Earth ten months ago, fitted with a small telescope, which detached on the 11th of September to allow remote observation of the probe’s path, the impact, and its afterlife. The aftermath will be followed for years to assess the long-term effects of the impact. It is planned that in 2026, the European Space Agency will also launch an instrument to take a close-up look.
The collision occurred at 1:14 a.m., but the outcome will not be known until later, as NASA will declare the mission a success if the intervention has increased the 12-hour orbit time of Dimorphos by at least 73 seconds. It is estimated, however, that its orbit time could slow down by up to 10 minutes. At the same time, experts say that just being able to hit a tiny target in space with such precision is already a huge achievement. You can re-watch the final moments of DART on NASA’s recorded live stream.
Cover photo: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL