For the first time ever, NASA has completed what it calls a "planetary defense" drill. Monday, NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) successfully crashed into the asteroid Dimorphos in an attempt to change its path in space. The relatively small asteroid (just 530 feet in diameter) is what astronomers call a moonlet. Dimorphos orbits a much larger asteroid, Didymos, some seven million miles from Earth.
The best part of it all? NASA made sure to capture to impact on camera. See it for yourself below.
"At its core, DART represents an unprecedented success for planetary defense, but it is also a mission of unity with a real benefit for all humanity," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a press release. "As NASA studies the cosmos and our home planet, we're also working to protect that home, and this international collaboration turned science fiction into science fact, demonstrating one way to protect Earth."
While neither asteroid pose a threat to Earth, scientists say the test was needed to prepare for potential threats. In the coming days and weeks, the DART investigation team will used ground-based observatories to measure what impact the craft had on the path of the asteroid, if any.
"Planetary Defense is a globally unifying effort that affects everyone living on Earth," added Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Now we know we can aim a spacecraft with the precision needed to impact even a small body in space. Just a small change in its speed is all we need to make a significant difference in the path an asteroid travels."
In total, DART traveled through space for 10 months to reach its target.
"DART's success provides a significant addition to the essential toolbox we must have to protect Earth from a devastating impact by an asteroid," said Lindley Johnson, NASA's Planetary Defense Officer. "This demonstrates we are no longer powerless to prevent this type of natural disaster. Coupled with enhanced capabilities to accelerate finding the remaining hazardous asteroid population by our next Planetary Defense mission, the Near-Earth Object (NEO) Surveyor, a DART successor could provide what we need to save the day."