(ORDO NEWS) — NASA says a mission to knock a distant asteroid off course has been successful, demonstrating a potentially new method to save the Earth from dangerous space rocks that astronomers may discover in the future.
NASA’s DART spacecraft, which rammed an asteroid last month, was able to change the trajectory of a moving target, officials at the space agency said Tuesday.
“NASA has proven that we are serious about protecting the planet,” agency administrator Bill Nelson told reporters at a news conference.
A refrigerator-sized spacecraft crashed into an asteroid called Dimorphos at 14,000 miles per hour on September 26. Dimorphos, roughly the size of a football stadium, orbits the larger asteroid Didymos.
The momentum from the impact, combined with the recoil of ejected particles created by the collision, helped to significantly change the trajectory of Dimorphos in space.
Prior to the collision, Dimorphos orbited Didymos about once every 11 hours and 55 minutes. After the collision, according to NASA, the orbit is now 11 hours and 23 minutes – a 32-minute change based on astronomical observations. Dimorphos now orbits slightly closer to Didymos than before.
“For the first time in history, humanity has changed the orbit of a planetary body,” Laurie Gleizes, director of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, told a press conference.
NASA’s minimum requirement for DART success would have been a 73 second trajectory change, which the mission easily exceeded.
The accuracy of the change has an error of plus or minus two minutes. A combination of four optical telescopes and a planetary radar was used to determine the asteroid’s new orbit.
Dimorphos never posed a danger to Earth, but was merely a target asteroid for demonstrating this deflection technique. Asteroids similar in size to Dimorphos could cause regional disruption if they hit a populated area on the planet.
“I think the DART mission has demonstrated that we are capable of deflecting an asteroid, even a potentially dangerous asteroid of this size,” Gleizes said.
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