News brief: The world’s first successful planetary defense test

BY MEANNA SMITH

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s first launch of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission was a success. The DART mission’s goal of testing a method of planetary defense against near-Earth objects was achieved. 

According to NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, DART was designed to prevent a potential doomsday meteorite collision with Earth. This space mission was not only NASA’s first planetary defense test, but also the world’s first successful planetary defense test.

The spacecraft was roughly the same size of a standard vending machine. The spacecraft crashed into an asteroid called Dimorphous on Sept. 26 at 7:14 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). 

This photo taken by the DART spacecraft pictures Didymos (a larger body which Dimorphous orbits) in the top left and Dimorphous in the bottom right corner. This photo was taken about two and a half minutes before the collision. (NASA John Hopkins APL)

Asteroid Dimorphous is about the same size as two football fields. Dimorphous is estimated by NASA officials to weigh roughly 11 billion pounds.

DART was first launched on Nov. 24 of 2021 weighing a total of 1,260 lbs. Although DART was significantly smaller than Dimorphous, speed is more important than size in space. DART was traveling at hypersonic speed when it crashed into the distant asteroid Dimorphous. 

The collision was videotaped by NASA’s Demonstration Rocket For Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) satellite camera. DRACO was able to record minutes before and minutes after the collision. 

Dimorphous posed no real threat to Earth however it provided the perfect opportunity to test the abilities of DART. Although it can’t be determined for another two months whether DART was actually able to alter the path of the asteroid or not, the collision is still considered a huge success because it hit its intended target. 

The success of the DART mission creates protection for Earth against the possibility of a tragic asteroid impact. Although this first-time success is only a small step in the direction of total safety, it proves that humanity is no longer powerless in the event of an asteroid and Earth collision natural disaster.   

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