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NASA strikes asteroid with spacecraft in historic planetary protection mission

NASA on Monday efficiently struck a tiny asteroid greater than 7 million miles from Earth with a 1,000-pound spacecraft, finishing the world’s first planetary protection mission.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Take a look at (DART) spacecraft slammed into the asteroid Dimorphos at roughly 7:14 p.m. ET at a pace of greater than 14,000 miles per hour.

It’s the primary time humanity has ever purposefully struck an object in area. NASA and Johns Hopkins Utilized Physics Laboratory officers who’ve been engaged on the DART mission for years erupted into applause as quickly because the spacecraft collided with Dimorphos.

DART first launched into area final November, so the mission’s success completes a 10-month flight towards Dimorphos, an asteroid that weighs round 5 billion kilograms.

Dimorphos is a part of the binary asteroid system Didymos, which implies twin in Greek. In its system, Dimorphos orbits the bigger asteroid Didymos.

Whereas neither Dimorphos nor Didymos posed a risk to Earth, the DART mission serves as a key take a look at of deflecting a future asteroid or area object that might threaten the planet.

NASA Administrator Invoice Nelson on Monday praised the DART mission and thanked the crew for its years of labor.

“I imagine it’s going to show us how in the future to guard our personal planet,” Nelson mentioned of DART in a video assertion. “We’re exhibiting that planetary protection is a world endeavor, and it is rather doable to avoid wasting our planet.”

The mission is taken into account to be an enormous success, and the DART crew didn’t encounter any difficulties or setbacks. Elena Adams, DART’s programs engineer, mentioned they created contingency plans for doable hurdles however didn’t find yourself using any. 

Adams led a spherical of applause for the mission.

“Earthlings ought to sleep higher,” Adams mentioned at a Monday press convention. “Positively I’ll.”

The DART spacecraft possible obliterated upon affect and its particles possible scattered throughout area or lodged into the asteroid, the crew mentioned. It’s doable the spacecraft created a 10-meter or 20-meter crater in Dimorphos.

The DART crew estimated they might have a full evaluation on the collision in about two months, together with particulars of how a lot the spacecraft pushed the asteroid out of its orbit. NASA and APL have been hoping to vary the orbit of Dimorphos by a number of minutes.

Observatory groups utilizing ground-based telescopes might talk about particular person leads to the approaching days. The European Area Company has a comply with up mission referred to as Hera, which can launch a spacecraft towards Didymos in 2024. The spacecraft ought to arrive in 2026 and supply larger element in regards to the collision.

The DART crew shall be transferring on to different missions. Whereas the crew feels achieved, Julie Bellerose, DART’s navigation lead at NASA, mentioned she felt a bit bittersweet when viewing the ultimate picture of DART smashing into Dimorphos.

“There’s loads of emotion,” she mentioned. “There was loads of friendship being constructed. I’m relieved to see that it went so properly … however on the finish, I shed a tear.”

Up to date 9:30 p.m.

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