Home Science Historic impact of a spacecraft against an asteroid

Historic impact of a spacecraft against an asteroid

Historic impact of a spacecraft against an asteroid

NASA made history this Tuesday, Monday in the United States, by making a spacecraft collide at full speed with an asteroid with the aim of deflecting its trajectory, which is a test for the Earth to be able to defend itself in the future from objects. dangerous space.

As planned, at 01:14 (Spanish peninsular time) today, the ship known as dart (‘dart’ in English, and also the mission initials: Double asteroid redirection test) collided at a speed of about 6.4 kilometers per second against the surface of the asteroid Dimorphos, located about 11 million kilometers from Earth.

While the impact can be seen on NASA’s live stream, scientists will have to wait days or even weeks to see if this unmanned spacecraft has managed to slightly alter the asteroid’s orbit.

First planetary defense test

It is the first time in human history that an attempt has been made to change the trajectory of a celestial body, to test a technology that in the future could serve to protect the Earth from asteroids similar to the one that caused it 66 million years ago. the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Furthermore, this is the first ‘planetary defense’ test carried out by NASA, in the context of the growing importance that the US Armed Forces have given to space and the possible threats that can be found in it.

Illustration of the DART spacecraft (with the small LICIACube satellite in the background) and the asteroids Dimorphos and Didymos. /Steve Gribben/Johns Hopkins APL/NASA

Shortly after the launch, the director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, Lori Glaze, stated that the world has opened a new chapter tonight: “We are embarking on a new era for humanity, an era in which we will have the ability to protect ourselves from something as dangerous as an asteroid impact. This is something incredible. We’ve never had this capability before,” Glaze said in a statement.

NASA broadcast the impact live in a black and white video in which the tiny spacecraft can be seen colliding with the asteroid.

At the same time, spectators were able to count down to the impact: “Three, two, one!” And they could see how at that moment the scientists from NASA and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (LFA), who worked together on this mission, erupted in cheers, applause and hugs.

The DART ship weighs about 600 pounds and is about the same size as a refrigerator or a food vending machine. Its construction cost more than 330 million dollars.

The DART spacecraft is the size of a refrigerator and it hit a rock at 6.4 kilometers per second against a rock 160 km in diameter.

In turn, the asteroid it collided with is called Dimorphos (“two forms” in Greek). It is a space body 160 kilometers in diameter resembling a moon and revolving around another larger asteroid called Didymos, which is 780 kilometers in diameter and whose name means “twin” in Greek.

Together they form part of what is known as the double asteroid system and were selected by NASA because they pose no threat to Earth.
NASA scientists believe the DART impact on Dimorphos may have caused a crater and launched small rock fragments into space.

A small satellite, or CubeSat, called LICIACube (Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging Asteroids) developed by the Italian Space Agency monitored the operation from a distance to take images of the impact and send them to scientists for evaluation in the coming hours or days.
movie mission

NASA administrator, Bill Nelsonexplained on Twitter the purpose of the test and compared it to the science fiction film Armageddon, where the character played by Bruce Willis is part of a mission to destroy an asteroid that is dangerously close to Earth.

“No, this is not a movie script,” Nelson said in a message on Twitter before the accident, highlighting the mission’s value to Earth’s future survival.

The big difference between Armageddon and the NASA mission is that, in this case, the goal was to slightly change the asteroid’s orbit and not destroy it. A strong impact can end in disaster with hundreds of space rocks falling to Earth.

For now, NASA doesn’t have any objects on its radar that could pose a direct threat to Earth for the next 100 years, but it has decided to put its technology to the test to be prepared.

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