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NASA DART Mission Alters Asteroid’s Orbit Following Impact

Planetary defense

NASA DART Mission Alters Asteroid’s Orbit Following Impact

NASA has confirmed that the asteroid moonlet Dimorphos changed its orbit after it was hit by the Double Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraft on Sept. 26. The moonlet previously took 11 hours and 55 minutes to revolve around its larger parent asteroid Didymos. Following DART’s impact, Dimorphos had its orbit time changed to 11 hours and 23 minutes, making the mission a success, NASA said.

Prior to the collision, Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, said the space agency was aiming to achieve just a small change in Dimorphos’ speed. The initial mission data, however, showed that DART surpassed the minimum benchmark of 73 seconds by more than 25 times.

DART was launched to test asteroid deflection technology and help build a capability that could protect Earth from space rocks or other objects in the future. 

“This mission shows that NASA is trying to be ready for whatever the universe throws at us,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “This is a watershed moment for planetary defense and all of humanity.”

The space agency’s investigation team is still gathering more data on the impact using ground-based observatories worldwide and radar facilities, including the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Goldstone planetary radar in California and the National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia.

New data will help the team understand the recoil from the blast and the asteroid’s physical properties.

The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory built and operated the DART spacecraft, which was launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in November 2021 from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The Didymos system does not pose any hazard to Earth. Scientists selected the asteroid system for the test because its relative proximity to Earth and dual-asteroid configuration would enable them to observe the intentional collision results.

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Category: Space