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NASA successfully crashes a spacecraft into an asteroid for the first time

(CNN) — NASA’s DART mission deliberately crashed into an asteroid in humanity’s first planetary defense test.

Impact occurred at 7:14 PM ET as planned, and there were cheers at NASA Mission Control in Laurel, Maryland, as people watched the historic mission, the first of its kind anywhere in the world.

While asteroid Dimorphos is not at risk of hitting Earth, this demonstration could determine how to deflect space rocks that could pose a threat to Earth in the future.

It will be some time before NASA can determine whether the impact successfully altered the asteroid’s orbit, a critical objective of the mission.

“We are entering a new era of humanity, an era where we may have the ability to protect ourselves from something like a dangerous asteroid impact,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. . “What a wonderful thing. We’ve never had that ability.”

After the successful DART accident, the science is just beginning

For the first time in history, NASA is trying to change the motion of a natural celestial body in space. Now that a spacecraft has successfully hit the asteroid Dimorphos, the science is just beginning.

To determine the consequences of the impact, the European Space Agency’s Hera mission will be launched in 2024. The spacecraft, along with two CubeSats, will arrive at the asteroid system two years later.

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Hera will study both asteroids, measure the physical properties of Dimorphos, and examine the DART impact crater and the moon’s orbit, with the goal of establishing an effective planetary defense strategy.

How likely is it that an asteroid will hit the earth? 1:23

The Italian Space Agency’s Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids satellite, or LICIACube, will fly by Dimorphos to capture images and video of the impact plume as it leaves the asteroid and perhaps even spy the crater it may leave behind. The minisatellite will also see the opposite hemisphere of Dimorphos, which DART will not be able to see until it is obliterated.

The CubeSat will rotate to keep its cameras pointed at Dimorphos as it flies by. Days, weeks and months later we will see images and videos captured by the Italian satellite that observed the collision event. The first images expected from LICIACube may show the moment of impact and the column it creates.

The LICIACube won’t be the only observer watching. The James Webb Space Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope and NASA’s Lucy mission will observe the impact. The Didymos system may glow as its dust and debris are expelled into space, said Statler, a NASA program scientist.

But ground-based telescopes will be key to determining whether DART has successfully altered Dimorphos’ motion.

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