NASA confirms success of DART mission, proving humanity can deflect killer asteroids with rockets

In accordance with four new studies, NASA's DART mission, which sent a rocket crashing into the asteroid Dimorphos, altered the asteroid's course and may one day save Earth if enough time is provided for preparation.

Nearly five months after deliberately crashing a rocket into a far-off asteroid, NASA has some good news: The mission was a huge success and, in the future, similar techniques may be able to stop Earth from being destroyed by planet-killing space rocks, claim four new studies published in the journal Nature.

In a statement, Nicola Fox, assistant administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, said: "I cheered when DART slammed head on into the asteroid for the world's first planetary defense technology demonstration, and that was just the start."These discoveries "build a foundation for how humanity can defend Earth from a potentially hazardous asteroid by altering its course" and "add to our fundamental understanding of asteroids."

After five years of preparation, NASA initiated the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission in late November 2021. The objective was to try a planetary defense hypothesis known as the "kinetic impactor" method, which is essentially changing an asteroid's course by crashing a rocket into it quickly.

The asteroid Dimorphos, a 525-foot (160-meter) "moonlet" that circles a bigger asteroid named Didymos, is about 7 million miles (11 million kilometers) from Earth. In September 2022, NASA's DART spacecraft safely collided with it. According to the original NASA report, the impact's power changed Dimorphos' orbit around Didymos by about 33 minutes and effectively changed the smaller space rock's course. Although neither asteroid ever presented a threat to Earth, their size and similar orbits made them perfect candidates for the expedition.

Four new studies that were just released on March 1 affirm that the operation was even more effective than NASA engineers had anticipated and that using kinetic impactors is a practical way to safeguard Earth in the future against possibly deadly asteroids.

A detailed account of DART's successful collision with the asteroid is provided in the first of the new studies, which also recreates the events leading up to the impact, the position and details of the impact itself, and the dimensions and form of Dimorphos. The article finds that "kinetic impactor technology is a viable technique to potentially defend Earth if necessary" because of the successful impact with the asteroid and the subsequent modification in Dimorphos' orbit.

The research adds that if scientists have several years, or better yet several decades, to plan for the asteroid's approach, they can intercept an asteroid about the size of Dimorphos without first conducting a reconnaissance flight.

The 33-minute slowdown of Dimorphos' orbit is separately confirmed in the second research by means of two distinct techniques, and in the third article , momentum from the DART spacecraft to the asteroid is calculated. Both the velocity of the falling ship and the massive plume of material released from the asteroid's surface after the collision caused the impact to immediately reduce the asteroid's orbital speed by at least 0.1 inch per second (2.7 millimeters per second).

Dimorphos became a "active asteroid," a type of little-understood asteroid that orbits like an asteroid but has a tail like a comet, according to the final paper. This trail of dusty debris has since been seen extending into space for thousands of miles. Although scientists have anticipated that impacts produce active asteroids in the past, the transition has never been witnessed in the present.

Together, these findings clear the way for "a bright future for planetary defense," according to a statement from Jason Kalirai, mission area executive for civil space at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which co-manages the DART project with NASA.

The European Space Agency intends to send its Hera mission in 2024 to study the scarred visage of Dimorphos up close, continuing in-depth research into the DART impact.