First-ever planetary defense system successfully moves asteroid


Source: NASA

Fears over the extinction of the human race and the world as we know it are nothing new — and these fates have been tied to space ever since the science fiction genre emerged. Alien invasions, asteroid collisions, and sun flares are popular choices in popular works of fiction. But space agencies such as NASA take these possibilities seriously, especially with our understanding of the Cretaceous–Paleogene event which wiped the majority of dinosaurs off the face of the Earth. 

NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, has been tasked with facing the threat head on, or rather into. As the world’s first planetary defense system, DART successfully altered an asteroid’s orbit named Dimorpheus through collision, which orbits a larger asteroid named Didymos. Their respective sizes are 530 feet and 2,560 feet. Neither asteroid posed any threat to Earth, however there are thousands of potentially-dangerous asteroids near Earth right now. Although the chance is incredibly small (1 in 714), a collision into Earth could easily wipe out communities or civilizations. However, DART’s mission has provided us with valuable information about our planetary defense capabilities. 

DART only altered Dimorpheus’ orbit by about 1%, but this is large enough to push an asteroid out of a collision path with Earth. If there is ever such an asteroid in the future, DART’s mission and subsequent data collections will be vital in defending Earth’s atmosphere.