Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) collides with asteroid Dimorphos; scientists will now monitor changes in asteroid orbit.
In October of 2021, I reported that The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) would launch a test mission to nudge an asteroid’s moon in a test to see if asteroid deflection is possible to protect our planet. The experiment is called the “Double Asteroid Redirection Test.” The mission launched in November.
On Monday, NASA tested the spacecraft successfully, as it intentionally slammed into an asteroid in a historic test of humanity’s ability to protect Earth from an impact event.
The agency’s DART probe, short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test, carried out the first-of-its-kind maneuver on a small and harmless space rock known as Dimorphos, which is currently located roughly 6.8 million miles away from Earth.
The $325 million mission was designed to see whether “nudging” an asteroid can alter its trajectory, providing scientists with a valuable real-world test of planetary defense technologies.
The DART spacecraft, which is about the size of a vending machine, crashed into Dimorphos on Monday at 7:14 p.m. ET, flying head-on into the space rock at 14,000 miles per hour. It may take up to several weeks for NASA to confirm any changes to the space rock’s trajectory, but the goal is to shorten the asteroid’s nearly 12-hour orbit by several minutes.
IMPACT SUCCESS! Watch from #DARTMIssion’s DRACO Camera, as the vending machine-sized spacecraft successfully collides with asteroid Dimorphos, which is the size of a football stadium and poses no threat to Earth. pic.twitter.com/7bXipPkjWD
— NASA (@NASA) September 26, 2022
It will take several more weeks of data analysis by scientists to determine just how successfully the spacecraft’s orbit of Dimorphos was altered.
Whether it succeeded beyond accomplishing its intended impact will not be known until further ground-based telescope observations of the asteroid next month. But NASA officials hailed the immediate outcome of Monday’s experiment, saying the spacecraft appeared to have performed as designed.
…Monday evening’s impact was monitored in near real time from the mission operations center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.
Cheers could be heard from engineers in the control room as second-by-second images of the target asteroid grew larger and ultimately filled the TV screen of NASA’s live webcast just before the spacecraft’s signal was lost, confirming it had successfully crashed into Dimorphos.
In related news, new studies suggest that the asteroid believed to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs landed in sulfur-rich rock. The ensuing sulfur-containing aerosols remained atmospheric for decades, plummeting the planet into seemingly endless winter.
The Yucatán in the Late Cretaceous was like today, with warm, shallow seas overlying a sulfur-rich carbonate platform. Volatilization of these rocks during the impact would have injected massive loads of carbon dioxide, sulfur, and other climatically active gases into the atmosphere. In particular, atmospheric sulfur rapidly forms sulfate aerosols, which can reflect incoming solar radiation and cool the planet for many years after an impact-generated plume has dissipated.
Geochemists recently confirmed that rubble collected from the Chicxulub crater contained virtually no sulfur… meaning that all the sulfur in these rocks, with an estimated mass of more than 10 million times the Eiffel Tower, must have been vaporized into the atmosphere. However, sulfate aerosols have long-term climatic effects only when they form in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, termed the stratosphere, where they can remain for years to decades.
Today’s test is momentous, as it is only a matter of time before a sizeable asteroid strikes Earth again. It’s heartening to know that enduring the Sweet Meteor of Death is not our only option.DONATE
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