NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) was a plan more akin to a blockbuster movie script – crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid to divert the space rock off course. Remarkably, the mission was a smashing success, as new research confirms. The US space agency’s refrigerator-sized satellite managed to shave 33 minutes off the orbit of a 520ft-wide (160m) asteroid known as Dimorphos when it careered into it at 14,000mph (22,000km/h). This is nearly five times greater than predicted and more than 25 times the change in orbital period required for the mission to be considered a success. Dimorphos orbits a much larger 2,550ft-wide (780m) object called Didymos 6.8 million miles from Earth. Estimations of just how much the momentum of Dimorphos was changed are revealed in five new scientific papers, all published in Nature. With Hubble Space Telescope and a worldwide network of citizen science telescopes also taking stunning images of plumes of debris, scientists believe that between 0.3 to 0.5 per cent of the moonlet’s mass was ejected into space from the impact. Although the asteroid posed no threat to Earth, the hope is that the mission’s concept could work as a strategy for defending our planet against future threats from space.
Today: November 30, 2023