NASA’s Space Weapon Changes Asteroid Orbit By 32 Minutes After Successful 14,000 Mph Hit

Ramish Zafar
The debris from the moonlet asteroid Dimorphos roughly ten days after impact. Image: NASA

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After it successfully collided with an asteroid late last month, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) was successfully able to change the asteroid's orbit confirmed the space agency earlier today. The test was the first of its kind conducted by any space agency on Earth, and its aim was to test whether humans could alter the trajectory of potentially threatening objects, such as asteroids if they were to pose a threat to Earth.

The mission saw NASA's DART impactor spacecraft smash into the Didymos asteroid system's moonlet asteroid Dimorphus, and fresh data from the agency reveals that the impact managed to reduce the moonlet's orbit around its parent asteroid by more than half an hour.

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NASA Confirms DART Spacecraft Exceeds Success Criteria By More Than 25 Times

Before it flew the DART spacecraft thousands of miles away from Earth towards the Didymos asteroid system, NASA's criteria had outlined that a successful test would see the moonlet asteroid's path change by 75 seconds. The mission involved NASA's impactor spacecraft colliding with the moonlet asteroid Dimorphus, as it used the parent asteroid Didymos to orient itself just an hour or so before impact.

Footage of the impact that became available soon after impact had shown a strain of rocks training the moonlet asteroids which indicated that the damage had been done. Now, roughly two weeks after impact, NASA has confirmed that the mission was successful, and Dimorphus orbit was altered by 32 minutes due to the impact which took place at an eye popping speed of 14,000 miles per hour.

The Dimoprhos and Didymos asteroids are visible in a single frame as DART heads to the former. Image: NASA/John Hopkins APL

According to NASA, prior to the impact, the moonlet asteroid took 11 hours and 55 minutes to orbit the parent asteroids. After the DART collision, this time dropped to 11 hours and 23 minutes for a 32 minute change which exceed the test's success criteria by more than 25 times.

However, NASA astronomers aren't done with the asteroid system just yet. After confirming that the test was a success, they are now focusing on the rocks ejected from the asteroid post-collision. Due to the emptiness of space, the force of this plume of rocks also 'pushed' the asteroid forward and helped change its orbit.

The astronomer will continue to view the images sent out by DART's companion imaging satellite developed by the Italian Space Agency. This will enable them to analyze the moonlet asteroid's shape and mass. Other issues that they are studying involve analyzing Dimorphos's surface texture.. Not all asteroids are made of hard rock, and some have a soft, sponge like surface as well.

NASA's successful DART mission came as a nice distraction from the agency's repeated attempts to launch its Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. After struggling with seals that connected the rocket to its launch tower, engineers were willing to give the rocket another try when disaster struck in the form of Hurricane Ian and forced NASA to roll the rocket back to its vehicle assembly building. The next Artemis 1 launch attempt is slated for November, and if successful, then it will kickstart NASA's Artemis program that seeks to establish a permanent presence on the Moon.

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