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Dart spacecraft hits target asteroid in test of planetary defence system

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An artist's illustration of NASA's DART spacecraft approaching its asteroid target.
An artist's illustration of NASA's DART spacecraft approaching its asteroid target.

US: Hurtling through the solar system at hypersonic speed, NASA’s Dart spacecraft on Tuesday successfully slammed itself into an asteroid some 11 million km from Earth in a test of the world’s first planetary defence system, designed to prevent a potential doomsday meteorite collision with Earth.

“In case you’re keeping score: humanity 1, asteroids 0,” Tahira Allen, a NASA spokesman, said during a livestream after the impact.

The finale to the suicide spaceflight, humanity’s first attempt to alter the motion of an asteroid or any celestial body, played out in a Nasa webcast from the mission operations centre outside Washington, 10 months after Dart was launched.

The livestream showed images taken by Dart’s own camera as the cube-shaped “impactor” vehicle, no bigger than a vending machine with two rectangular solar arrays, streaked into the asteroid Dimorphos, about the size of a football stadium.

A separate, toaster-size satellite, deployed from Dart prior to impact, also captured images of the collision. Nasa has said it will share those images in the coming days. Various NASA space telescopes, including Hubble and James Webb, also observed the impact. The mission was devised to determine whether a spacecraft is capable of changing the trajectory of an asteroid through sheer kinetic force, nudging it off course just enough to keep Earth out of harm’s way.

Whether it succeeded beyond accomplishing its intended impact will not be known until further ground-based telescope observations of the asteroid next month.


Thursday, September 29, 2022 – 01:00

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