The DART mission was humanity’s first attempt to defend the Earth from the collision of future space objects.
A ship of the NASA crashed this Monday at full speed against an asteroid to divert its trajectory in space, in what supposes the humanity’s first attempt to defend the Earth from the collision of future space objects.
At 7:14 p.m. local time in the Eastern United States, the ship known as dart (dart in English) crashed at a speed of 6.4 kilometers per second against the surface of the asteroid Dimorphoslocated about 11 million kilometers from Earth.
Although the impact could be seen on NASA’s live broadcast, scientists they will have to wait days or even weeks to see if the unmanned spacecraft has managed to slightly alter the asteroid’s orbit.
DART mission: this is how the collision of the ship with the asteroid was seen
What is the DART mission
The mission sought to determine whether to send a kamikaze probe – as in the film Don’t Look Up– to collide with the asteroid Dimorphos, is an effective way of divert a rocky body from its path.
Dimorphos (whose diameter is 160 meters) is a small moon that revolves around the asteroid Didymos (780 meters), located 11 million kilometers from Earth. This binary Didymos system moves around the Sun, close to the orbits of Earth and Mars.
The idea was not to destroy the porous surface of this body but move it from its course. The technique is known as kinetic impactwhere the destructive force comes from the energy released by the blow.
The event was also recorded by the Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes, which were supposed to detect a bright cloud of dust.
DART mission: key instruments
The spacecraft, which took 10 months to reach its goal, carries a number of instruments on board. Its navigation system allows it to orient the ship towards Jupiter and in the last leg, guide it towards its target.
While the Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO) will have to record the impact. NASA will be supported by the LICIAcube camera, a spacecraft launched by the Italian Space Agency.
The images you submit will measure about 2,500 pixels on a sidea more than sufficient resolution that should allow to distinguish details of 20 centimeters just before the impact.
The DRACO captures will be remembered as a milestone for humanity, but it will also be possible to follow the impact live, thanks to the NASA broadcast.
Later, the European probe HERA, which will take off in 2024, will closely observe Dimorphos in 2026 to assess the consequences of the impact and calculate, for the first time, the mass of the asteroid.
For the last four hours, like a guided missile traveling at 23,000 kilometers per hour, the ship autonomously headed towards the target. At that point, the entire screen went black, with only a bright dot in the center.
The only thruster on board is an ion engine that produces a very low boost. Unlike chemical engines, it has been running for months. The DART’s large solar panels serve to power this booster.
Technicians commanding DART set their navigation system to photograph Jupiter and its four main satellites, just as Europa emerged from behind the gas giant.
DART is the culmination of more than eight years of work by a team of scientists seeking to defend Earth from potential threats from space. It had a budget of 330 million dollars.
This asteroid does not represent any threat to the planet, but thanks to the monitoring of ground-based telescopes, data will be collected to help prepare an effective defense.
“These objects are hurtling through space and of course they have marked the Moon and over time also on Earth they have had major impacts, they have affected our history,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for NASA. science.
Asteroids in the crosshairs
Very few of the known asteroids are considered potentially dangerous, and none will be in the next 100 years. But “I assure you that if you wait long enough, there will be one,” warned NASA Chief Scientist Zurbuchen.
About 30,000 asteroids of all sizes have been cataloged in the vicinity of the Earth (they are called near-Earth objects, that is, their orbit crosses the Earth’s orbit). Every year there are about 3,000 new ones.