Right this moment, Sept. 26, an unsuspecting asteroid was confronted by a NASA spacecraft despatched to rock its rocky world. If the walloping went nicely, it may assist defend Earth from harmful asteroids down the road.
At 7:14 p.m. EDT (23:14 UTC), the Double Asteroid Redirection Take a look at (DART) spacecraft ended its 10-month mission by colliding with Dimorphos, the satellite tv for pc of a near-Earth asteroid referred to as Didymos. DART goals to maneuver the moonlet nearer to its father or mother asteroid, altering its orbital interval from 11.9 to 11.8 hours. It’s a seemingly small change with doubtlessly large implications.
With DART, NASA is testing the efficacy of a planetary protection technique often known as the kinetic impactor approach. On this technique, a spacecraft should journey quick sufficient to not solely hit, however transfer, an asteroid off its typical course so its path is now not a menace to Earth. By measuring how far Dimorphos budged, scientists will higher perceive how viable the kinetic impactor approach is in real-life.
We’ll have some early updates on that quickly. Within the subsequent few weeks or months, we may have pictures of DART’s influence and aftermath because of the Italian House Company’s LICIACube. LICIACube, or the Mild Italian Cubesat for Imaging of Asteroids, hitched a trip to the Didymos system with DART to doc at present’s occasions.
Floor-based telescopes may also give us some perception into DART’s collision, however it gained’t be till ESA’s Hera mission in 2026 that one other spacecraft will completely examine the scene.
So whereas DART’s literal influence is over, its proverbial one lives on. The thriller of what occurred is simply starting, and these pictures from DART’s DRACO digicam are our first clues: