NASA’s DART probe crashed into an asteroid to alter its trajectory

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A NASA space probe successfully slammed into an asteroid at lightning speed Monday night on a mission to prepare for when such a rock will actually endanger Earth.

This scientific feat occurred nearly 10 million kilometers from Earth. The space probe named Dart hit the small, harmless asteroid at a speed of over 22,500 km/h, around 7:14 p.m., as expected.

Scientists expected the impact to carve a crater, hurl rocks into space and, most importantly, alter the asteroid’s orbit.

Telescopes around the world aimed at the same point in the sky to capture the spectacle. In live images provided by NASA, the impact was evident.

The asteroid, which initially represented only a thin white dot on a black background, quickly filled the screen, a sign that the probe had just made contact with it. It was at this moment that the signal transmitted by Dart suddenly stopped.

Meanwhile, the mission team members were gathered in a control room, watching the show with enthusiasm. In the final moments before impact, they could no longer transmit any further commands to the probe, but everyone in the room knew their objective would be achieved.

“Impact confirmed!” exclaimed Head of Mission Elena Adams, jumping with her arms in the air.

The controllers cheered, hugged and exchanged claps. Their mission complete, the Dart team went straight into celebration mode. No one was disappointed with the « death » of the probe.

“It was his destiny,” recalled Betsy Congdon, mechanical manager of Johns Hopkins.

A mini satellite followed a few minutes behind to take pictures of the impact. Italian Cubesat broke away from Dart two weeks ago.

The scientists insisted that Dart would not break Dimorphos. The probe weighed only 570 kilograms, while the asteroid weighs 5 billion kilograms. The probe still had to be heavy enough to reduce the orbit of the asteroid.

“As far as we can tell, our first test of planetary defense was a success,” declared the head of mission Adams in the evening in front of the media.

A Quebecer, Julie Bellerose, participated in this mission as head of navigation.

“There were a lot of emotions in the last critical moments, underlined Ms. Bellerose in a press briefing. We’ve had a few surprises over the past few weeks, so we’ve befriended each other.

“It was really relieving to see that everything went well, and from a navigation point of view, everything went really well.”

The engineer, however, admitted to having shed a small tear when the probe crashed into the astroid.

Even if the impact was obvious, it will take days, if not weeks, to determine just how much the asteroid’s trajectory has been altered.

The US$325 million mission was the first attempt to shift the position of an asteroid or any other natural object in space. The probe was launched in November 2021.

– With information from The Canadian Press

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