NASA chief Bill Nelson has revealed that the space agency's mission to divert the car-sized asteroid Dimorph from orbit was a success. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) space probe was able to change the trajectory of the celestial body. This is the first time humanity has succeeded in knocking an asteroid out of orbit.
Impact Probe DART, weighing 633 kilograms, was launched in November last year using a heavy Falcon 9 rocket company SpaceX. On the twenty-seventh of September this year, it finally hit the asteroid Dimorph, 160 metres in diameter, some 11 million kilometres from Earth. The space crash, occurring at 6.2 kilometres per second, was watched by the Italian cubesat LICIACube, which separated from DART five days before the collision.
Dimorph was orbiting the other, parent asteroid Didymus. Its orbital time was 11 hours and 55 minutes. After the collision, this period was shortened by 32 minutes, from which astronomers were able to deduce that the celestial body's trajectory had deviated.
"Our result is an important step towards understanding how a probe collides with an asteroid," said NASA Planetary Science Director Laurie Glaze. -- As new data comes in every day, astronomers will be able to better assess whether and how exactly a mission like DART could be used in the future to help protect Earth from a collision with an asteroid if we ever find it headed our way."
The mission to alter the orbit of the asteroid was the first ever and offers hope that humanity will be able to successfully shoot down space bodies potentially dangerous to Earth. Dimorph posed no such danger and served solely as a "training" object. NASA said it will continue to monitor the asteroid, monitor its orbit and intend to study the impact crater.