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NASA has deliberately let a small space probe called Dart crash right into an asteroid. The point of it was to see if it was possible to change the trajectory of the asteroid.
The result of the crash was that the small asteroid, Dimorphos, clearly changed its trajectory. A result that gives us hope of being able to avoid the fate of the dinosaurs if a giant asteroid were to risk hitting Earth in the future.
Dimorphos has a diameter of 160 meters and rotates like a small moon around another asteroid, Didiymos, which is 780 meters in diameter. Nasa investigated how long it takes for Dimorphos to travel one lap around Didiymos. If one could change the orbital period by 73 seconds, that would be enough to prove that it is possible to change an asteroid's orbit using this method.
The Dart, which is about the size of a refrigerator, exceeded expectations. According to Nasa's analysis, Dimorphos's orbit changed by a full 32 minutes.
“This space mission shows that Nasa is ready for whatever the universe can throw at us. Nasa has proven that we are a serious defender of this planet," says Nasa chief Bill Nelson, in a press release.
Nasa scientists will now continue to analyze the crash to see how Dimorphos was affected.
“Dart has given us fascinating data on both the composition of the asteroid and how a space probe can be used to defend the planet. The Dart team continues to work with all the data to fully understand how this first test of defending the planet by altering an asteroid's orbit worked," said Nancy Chabot, NASA Dart mission coordinator.