On a historic day for the relationship between humanity and space, for the first time the National Aeronautics and Space Administration –NASA for its acronym in English- tests its planetary defensive strategy and manages to hit a near-Earth asteroid.
This Monday and as a test, the US space agency successfully collided at 20:16 Chilean hours with the rocky celestial body Dimorphos close to Earth with a probe the size of a washing machine.
The objective of the DART mission (or “Double Asteroid Redirect Test” in English) was to divert the trajectory of the asteroid of 160 meters in diameter that also it is part of a binary system as it orbits around another larger asteroid, Didymos.
It was possible to know the status of the operation through the documentation of the small satellite LICIACube (Light Italian Cubesat for Imaging of Asteroid), of the Italian Space Agency, which was deployed from DART itself To catch images of the impact effects on the surface and the generated ejection plume.
“For the first time in history, we will appreciably change the orbit of a celestial body in the universe“, projected Robert Braun, head of the Space Exploration Sector of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL, for its acronym in English) in Laurel, Maryland, institution in charge of developing the spacecraft.
But the total success of the entire mission will only be known in the next few days after the analysis of the results. After the impact, telescopes on Earth and NASA’s two James Webb and Hubble Space Telescopes must check whether the impact was strong enough to change Dimorphos’s orbit.
Some experts feared the unpredictable results of the crashthis because the impact it could force the asteroid to spin out of control.
IMPACT SUCCESS! Watch from #DARTMIssion‘s DRACO Camera, as the vending machine-sized spacecraft successfully collides with asteroid Dimorphos, which is the size of a football stadium and poses no threat to Earth. pic.twitter.com/7bXipPkjWD
— NASA (@NASA) September 26, 2022
The extinction of the dinosaurs
Concerns about the possibility of a large rocky celestial body colliding with Earth are not exaggerated when it is known that every year 19 asteroids pass close to our planet. In fact, it is very likely that there have been impacts in the past.
In 1980, researchers led by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Luis Alvarez, including his son, geologist Walter Alvarez, and chemists Frank Asaro and Helen Vaughn Michel discovered high concentrations of what would be the trail of a giant asteroid.
According to the contributions of these scientists, the amount of iridium that is found in Cretaceous-Paleogene sedimentary layers around the world could explain the extinction of the dinosaurs through this planetary clash of apocalyptic proportions. This thesis had already been presented in 1953 by the geologists Alan O. Kelly Y Frank Dachille as a possible cause of the end of the Jurassic era.
The theory, although not fully acceptedwas justified a little more in the early 1990s, when a 180 km diameter crater was discovered in Chicxulub, on the Yucatan peninsula, considered the most likely impact site.
For the same reason, NASA began to test its ability to defend itself against meteorites or meteoroids, or in the worst case of astetorides, as it was the one that annihilated the huge prehistoric animals.
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Successful collision: for the first time NASA collides with an asteroid to test its planetary defensive capacity