Success! An Asteroid Was Thrown Off Course by NASA (And Now It Has a Tail)

Photo by Chris Henry

In a futuristic test of humanity’s capacity to prevent an approaching cosmic object from obliterating life on Earth, NASA on Tuesday celebrated exceeding expectations during a mission to deflect a faraway asteroid.

According to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, the moonlet asteroid Dimorphos was intentionally hit by the refrigerator-sized Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) impactor on September 26. This caused it to enter a smaller, quicker orbit around its larger sibling Didymos.

That improved an expectation of 10 minutes and reduced its orbital period by 4%, or 32 minutes, from 11 hours 55 to 11 hours 23.

“Thank god we will have had this successful test,” Nelson told AFP, “if we find an asteroid that is threatening to impact Earth in the future and would be massive enough to actually do some harm.”

The two asteroids do not constitute a threat to our planet because they loop together around our Sun every 2.1 years.

However, they are perfect for researching the planetary defense technique known as “kinetic impact.”

What was once science fiction has become a reality thanks to DART’s success as a proof-of-concept, especially because of movies like Armageddon, Deep Impact, and Don’t Look Up.

Dimorphos, a never-before-seen object with a diameter of 530 feet (160 meters) and an approximate size of a large Egyptian pyramid, first appeared as a speck of light about an hour prior to impact.

In the last few seconds, as DART sped toward it at around 14,500 miles (23,500 kilometers) per hour, its egg-like form and rugged, boulder-dotted surface came into vivid view.

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