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DART Spacecraft Crashes Into Asteroid in NASA's First Test of Planetary Defense

NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) was humanity's first attempt at defending the planet by altering an asteroid's course.
DART Spacecraft Crashes Into Asteroid in NASA's First Test of Planetary Defense

Nuclear bombs. That's the go-to answer for incoming space objects like asteroids and comets, as far as Hollywood is concerned. Movies like Deep Impact and Armageddon rely on nukes to save the world and deliver the drama. Planetary defense experts say in reality, if astronomers spotted a dangerous incoming space rock, the safest and best answer might be something more subtle, like simply pushing it off course by ramming it with a small spacecraft, writes NPR.

Move over, Bruce Willis: NASA crashed into an asteroid to test planetary defense (NPR)

Excerpt from NPR: That's just what NASA did on Monday evening, when a spacecraft headed straight into an asteroid, obliterating itself. In images streamed as the impact neared, the egg-shaped asteroid, called Dimorphos, grew in size from a blip on screen to have its full rocky surface come quickly into focus before the signal went dead as the craft hit, right on target. Events transpired exactly as engineers had planned, they said, with nothing going wrong. The impact was the culmination of NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), a 7-year and more than $300 million effort which launched a space vehicle in November of 2021 to perform humanity's first ever test of planetary defense technology. It will be about two months, scientists said, before they will be able to determine if the impact was enough to drive the asteroid slightly off course. "This really is about asteroid deflection, not disruption. This isn't going to blow up the asteroid," Nancy Chabot, the DART coordination lead at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said.
Embed from Getty Images

In a related story from the Associated Press, the world now has stunning new photos of this week’s asteroid strike as NASA on Thursday released pictures of the dramatic event taken by the Hubble and Webb space telescopes.

Space telescopes capture asteroid slam with striking clarity (Associated Press)

Excerpt from the Associated Press: A few hours later, SpaceX joined NASA in announcing that they’re studying the feasibility of sending a private mission to Hubble, potentially led by a billionaire, to raise the aging telescope’s orbit and extend its life. Telescopes on all seven continents watched as NASA’s Dart spacecraft slammed Monday into the harmless space rock, 7 million miles from Earth, in hopes of altering its orbit. Scientists won’t know the precise change until November; the demo results are expected to instill confidence in using the technique if a killer asteroid heads our way one day. "This is an unprecedented view of an unprecedented event," Johns Hopkins University planetary astronomer and mission leader Andy Rivkin said in a statement.

And according to Space, the observations were the first job the two space telescopes performed in sync, according to NASA, and their collaboration will reveal new information about the battered asteroid.

DART asteroid crash seen by James Webb, Hubble space telescopes (Space)

Excerpt from Space: The James Webb Space Telescope observes the universe in the infrared (heat-emitting wavelengths), while the Hubble Space Telescope is a specialist in detecting optical light, the kind that is visible to the human eye. By combining observations from the two telescopes, astronomers can learn a great deal about objects in the cosmos. The asteroid appeared to Webb and Hubble like a dot of light that suddenly brightened when DART arrived. In the hours following the crash, the cloud of material stirred from the surface spread away from that dot, gradually changing its shape. According to Hubble measurements, the brightness increased threefold in the wake of DART's impact, and this brightness persisted for more than eight hours.

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