Washington For the first time, mankind has succeeded in throwing a celestial object off course. Dimorphos’ orbit around the much larger asteroid Didymos has changed significantly following a probe impact two weeks ago.
A test to defend against an asteroid on a collision course with Earth has been successful according to initial calculations by the US space agency Nasa. The unmanned probe, which crashed into the asteroid Dimorphos two weeks ago during the “Dart” mission, has changed its trajectory significantly, NASA said on Tuesday.
The probe left a deep crater on September 26 when it crashed into Dimorphos, 11 million kilometers away, at 22,500 kilometers per hour. A massive trail of rock debris and dust formed, stretching thousands of kilometers. Since then, telescopes in Chile and South Africa closely examines how much the impact changed the orbit of Dimorphos, a type of moon, around its much larger companion Didymos. Before that, it took 11 hours and 55 minutes to orbit the larger asteroid. The scientists had hoped to reduce this time by ten minutes. Instead, the probe’s impact changed the orbital period by 32 minutes, said NASA boss Bill Nelson. “This mission shows that Nasa is trying to be ready for whatever the universe throws at us.”
Neither asteroid posed a real threat to Earth, and they still don’t. That’s why the scientists chose just the two to test for the first time whether it is possible to change the course of an asteroid with a probe launched from Earth. So far, something like that was only stuff for Hollywood films. “We’ve envisioned this for years, and to finally have it come true is really quite exciting,” said NASA scientist Tom Statler.
The mission was launched last year. Nancy Chabot of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which built the probe, said: “This is a very exciting and promising result for the defense of the planet. The “Dart” probe, short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test, is the size of a snack machine. The mission cost $325 million.