NASA says it successfully changed asteroid’s path in test of planetary defense

The DART probe slammed into Dimorphos, which orbits a much larger asteroid named Didymos, on Sept. 26. The two space rocks are more than 6.5 million miles from Earth, and neither posed a threat to the planet before or after the DART mission.

Prior to the spacecraft’s impact, it took Dimorphos 11 hours and 55 minutes to circle Didymos. Using ground-based telescopes on Earth, astronomers have now confirmed that the DART crash shortened Dimorphos’ orbit by 32 minutes, to 11 hours and 23 minutes (with a margin of uncertainty of around plus or minus 2 minutes, according to NASA).

Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division in Washington, said the finding is an important step toward understanding the full implications of the DART mission.

“As new data come in each day, astronomers will be able to better assess whether, and how, a mission like DART could be used in the future to help protect Earth from a collision with an asteroid if we ever discover one headed our way,” Glaze said in a statement.

Astronomers are still studying the aftermath of the cosmic smash-up at observatories around the world. Researchers are focusing, in particular, on measuring how much energy or momentum was transferred between the two objects when the DART spacecraft flew head-on into Dimorphos at 14,000 mph. Scientists are also zeroing in on the many tons of rock and debris created by the impact, NASA officials said.

The DART spacecraft launched into space in November 2020. A future mission led by the European Space Agency will study the impact crater on the asteroid and examine Dimorphos and Didymos in greater detail.

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