Nasa’s DART crashes into asteroid in historic defence test to protect humanity

Demorphos orbits another asteroid called Didymos, which is five times larger, approximately every 12 hours. The pair of asteroids do not pose a threat to Earth, but they were used as a test because they are close enough that they can be seen with telescopes.

DART used an “intelligent navigation system” developed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory to cling to Dimorphos and orient itself there.

About 7,000 miles from Didymos, the largest asteroid, can be seen in images from DRACO as a white dot in the vast blackness of space.

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Several minutes later, Didymus appeared on the screen, then disappeared to the left when DART passed and headed for Dimorphos.

“Woohu, we see Dimorphos, very cool, cool,” said Elena Adams, a mission systems engineer at Johns Hopkins University.

After the collision, she added, “We knew we were going to be hit. We were all holding our breaths. I was kind of surprised that none of us lost consciousness.”

“It was basically the target point. I think, as far as we know, the first planetary defense test was successful.”

Two weeks ago, DART launched a small satellite, provided by the Italian Space Agency, to record the impact and send images back to Earth. A bright flash and then a column of dust were expected to appear.

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NASA hopes that the test will eventually allow humanity to avoid a mass extinction event like the one believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs and most life on Earth, 66 million years ago.

Already, at least 26,000 “near-Earth objects” have been identified, and many more are yet to be found. It is estimated that there are 4,700 of these space rocks that meet NASA’s classification as “Potentially Hazardous Objects”.

This means that they are larger than 500 feet, pass within 4.7 million miles of Earth, and will cause destruction if they collide.

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