Resounding success: NASA asteroid attack results in a big push

Resounding success: NASA asteroid attack results in a big push
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CAPE CANAVERAL Florida. (AP) — A spacecraft that slammed into a small, harmless asteroid millions of miles away managed to change its orbit, NASA said Tuesday as it announced the results of its test to save the world.

The space agency attempted the test two weeks ago to see if a killer rock might get out of Earth’s way in the future.

“This mission shows that NASA is trying to be ready for whatever the universe throws at us,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during a briefing at the space agency’s headquarters in Washington.

the The Dart spacecraft dug a crater on the asteroid Dimorphos in September. 26, hurling debris into space and creating a cometary trail of dust and debris stretching several thousand miles (kilometres). Consecutive nights of observations with telescopes from Chile and South Africa were needed to determine how much the impact altered the trajectory of the 160-meter (525-foot) asteroid around its companion, a much larger space rock.

Before impact, the small moon took 11 hours and 55 minutes to go around its parent asteroid. Scientists had anticipated shortening 10 minutes, but Nelson said the impact shortened the asteroid’s orbit by 32 minutes.

“Let’s take a moment to soak this up … for the first time, humanity has changed the orbit” of a celestial body, said Lori Glaze, NASA’s director of planetary science.

Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart, co-founder of the nonprofit B612 Foundation, dedicated to protecting Earth from asteroid impacts, said he is “clearly delighted, no question about it” by the results and the attention the mission has attracted. on the deflection of asteroids.

Team scientists said the amount of debris apparently played a role in the result. The impact may also have left Dimorphos reeling a bit, said Tom Statler, a NASA program scientist. That can affect the orbit, but it will never return to its original location, he noted.

The two bodies were originally already less than a mile (1.2 kilometers) apart. Now they are tens of yards (meters) closer.

None of the asteroids posed a threat to Earth, and they still don’t as they continue their journey around the sun. That’s why scientists chose the pair for this all-important dress rehearsal.

Planetary defense experts prefer to fend off a threatening asteroid or comet, years or even decades in advance, rather than blow it up and create multiple pieces that could rain down on Earth.

“We really also need that lead time for a technique like this to be effective,” said mission leader Nancy Chabot of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which built the spacecraft and managed the 325-minute mission. millions of dollars.

“You have to know they’re coming,” Glaze added.

Released last year, the vending-machine-sized Dart – short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test – was destroyed when it slammed into the asteroid 7 million miles (11 million km) away at 14,000 mph (22,500 kph).

“This is a great feat, not only for achieving the first step in being able to protect ourselves from future asteroid impacts,” but also for the amount of images and data collected internationally, Daniel Brown, an astronomer at Nottingham Trent University in England. he said via email.

Brown also said it’s “particularly exciting” that the tail remains can be seen by amateur skygazers with medium-sized telescopes.

The team’s scientists cautioned that more work is needed not only to identify more of the myriad space rocks out there, but also to determine their composition: Some are solid, while others are heaps of debris. Scouting missions may be needed, for example, before launching impactors to throw off orbits.

“We shouldn’t be too eager to say that a test on one asteroid tells us exactly how any other asteroid would behave in a similar situation,” Statler said.

Nevertheless, he and others rejoice at this first effort.

“We’ve been imagining this for years and for it to finally be real is really exciting,” he said.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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