Humankind may now be capable of protecting its survival against the threat of an asteroid impact like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs as NASA successfully completed its first planetary defense mission yesterday.
On Wednesday, NASA’s Double Asteroid Rendezvous Test (DART) un-manned spacecraft completed its 7-million-mile suicide mission to an asteroid dubbed Dimorphos.
The space rock was not on any near collision course with Earth, and the mission was an exploratory test in order to see if NASA could successfully alter an asteroid’s course by slamming a craft into it, a useful ability if a huge rock happens to be hurtling towards our planet at some point in the future.
DART was launched from California in November last year and took around 10 months to reach Dimorphoswhich orbits a larger asteroid, Didymos. NASA researchers cheered as they watched the live video feed from DART showing the craft nearing the asteroid before eventually smashing into it. As the video cuts out upon the successful impact, the NASA research team bursts into an applause from the control center.
Travelling at around 14,000 miles per hour, the DART craft, which was about the size of a golf cart, was completely destroyed upon its dead-on impact with Dimorphos, which measures around 560 feet in diameter. The aim was to give the rock a “small nudge” to move its orbit a fraction.
Amazingly, telescopes in Hawaii and South Africa captured the impact and explosion from Earth.