NASA Succeeded to Alter an Asteroid Trajectory

Two weeks ago, the asteroid Dimorphos was minding its own business, quietly orbiting around its partner Didymos, when suddenly NASA’s DART spacecraft plowed into it at 14,000 miles per hour.

The space agency and its partners planned that collision to see whether such an impact could alter an asteroid or comet’s trajectory—should humanity ever need to defend the planet from an oncoming space rock. Before the crash on September 26, Dimorphos circled its neighbor like clockwork: one lap every 11 hours and 55 minutes. If the DART test was successful, the proof would be a change in that orbital period, showing that the refrigerator-sized spacecraft had nudged the asteroid onto a different path. Now the DART team has an answer: It worked—even better than expected.

For the first time ever, humanity has changed the orbit of a planetary body,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA headquarters in Washington, at a press conference today revealing the result.

The team would have considered a 10-minute difference a success, said NASA chief Bill Nelson. But DART actually shortened the asteroid’s orbit by a whopping 32 minutes. Dimorphos now takes only about 11 hours and 23 minutes to circle its partner, he said—a significant change, meaning that it is indeed possible to deflect a small asteroid’s path.