In November 2021, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket took off from California with NASA’s Dart mission probe on board, which almost a year later managed to hit an asteroid located eleven million kilometers from Earth.
SPACE – This is the first time for Humanity, and it is worthy of “Armageddon” and Hollywood. During the night of Monday, September 26 to Tuesday, September 27, the survey of NASA Dart Mission has achieved crash into, eleven million kilometers from planet Earth, an asteroid. A test that aims divert the trajectory of the celestial body and learn how to protect yourself from a possible future threat.
The boat, smaller than a car, accelerated to a speed of more than 20,000 kilometers per hour on its target, reached at the scheduled time (1:14 am in France, 7:14 pm in the east coast of the United States). United). the teams of the POTgathered in the mission control center in Maryland, he burst with joy at the moment of the collision, as you can see in the video below.
A few minutes earlier, the asteroid Dimorphos, located about 11 million kilometers from Earth, has been growing little by little in the spectacular images broadcast live by the ship. We could clearly make out the pebbles on its gray surface, just before the images stopped at the moment of the explosion.
” We have embarked on a new era, where we potentially have the ability to protect ourselves from impact. dangerous asteroids said Lori Glaze, director of planetary sciences at NASA.
“LEarthlings can now sleep soundly »
Dimorphos is about 160 meters in diameter and does not represent any danger to our planet. It is actually the satellite of a larger asteroid, Didymos, which has so far circumnavigated in 11 hours and 55 minutes. NASA seeks to reduce the orbit of Dimorphos by 10 minutes, that is, to bring it closer to Didymos, that is, to modify its trajectory thanks to the power of the impact.
It will take a few days to a few weeks before scientists can confirm that the asteroid’s trajectory has been altered. They will do this thanks to telescopes on Earth, which will observe the variation in brightness as the small asteroid passes in front of and behind the large one.
If the objective remains modest compared to the disaster scenarios of science fiction movies like “Armageddon”, this mission of ” planetary defense “, called Dart (“ dart », in English), is the first to try such a technique. It allows NASA to train in case an asteroid threatens to hit Earth one day. “I think Earthlings can now sleep soundly, I will”launched Elena Adams, a mission engineer.
The ship had traveled for ten months since taking off in California. To hit a target as small as Dimorphos, the last phase of the flight was fully automated, like a homing missile.
Observations to come in the coming days and years.
Three minutes after impact, a shoebox-sized satellite, called LICIACube and launched by the spacecraft upriver, was expected to pass within about 55 kilometers of the asteroid to capture images of the ejection. The event was also to be observed by space telescopes. Hubble Y james webbwhich should be able to detect a bright cloud of dust and thus help assess the amount of ejected material.
All of this should allow a better understanding of the composition of Dimorphos, representative of a population of fairly common asteroids, and therefore measure the exact effect that this technique, called kinetic impact, can have on them.
The European probe Hera, which will take off in 2024, will also closely observe Dimorphos in 2026 to assess the consequences of the impact and calculate, for the first time, the mass of the asteroid.
Asteroids have held surprises for scientists in the past. In 2020, the US Osiris-Rex probe it had sunk much deeper than expected into the surface of the asteroid Bennu. Likewise, the composition of Dimorphos is currently unknown.
No imminent threat, but unknowns
” If the asteroid responds to the Dart impact in a totally unexpected way, it might actually lead us to reconsider how kinetic impact is a generalizable technique. “, Tom Statler, chief scientist of the mission, warned last week.
66 million years ago the dinosaurs disappeared after an asteroid collision about 10 kilometers high with the Earth. Since then, nearly 30,000 asteroids of all sizes have been cataloged in the vicinity of Earth (they are called near-Earth objects, meaning their orbit crosses that of our planet). But if none of these known asteroids threaten our planet for the next 100 years, not all of them have yet been identified.
Those of a kilometer or more have been sighted almost all, according to scientists. But they estimate that they know only 40% of the asteroids that measure 140 meters or more, and these are capable of destroying an entire region.
” Our most important task is to find the missing, said Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defense officer. The earlier they are detected, the more time experts will have to put in place a means of defending against them. The Dart mission is a crucial first step in this direction, according to the researcher: “ it’s a very exciting time (…) for the history of space, and even the history of mankind. »
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