A Student’s Essay on the DART Mission
The skies became dark, the Earth shook and a massive plume of smoke and dust engulfed the atmosphere. A huge tsunami followed. And the mighty dinosaurs were wiped away from the face of the Earth.
All it took, was a gigantic asteroid.
How common are asteroid hits?
Small asteroids (with a diameter of 1 km) hit the Earth on average every 5,00,000 years. Large asteroids (with a diameter of 5 km) hit Earth on average every 2 crore years. In 2022 alone, two asteroids hurtling close to Earth, were detected merely 24 hours before their approach. Thankfully they did not cause any harm.
And if such a catastrophe occurs again, we’d better be prepared. The administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Association (NASA), Bill Nelson, said that “All of us have a responsibility to protect our home planet. After all, it’s the only one we have.”
The DART Mission
To protect our home planet, NASA in association with Spacex, organised a Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission.
The mission was held to see how much the impact of a spacecraft affects an asteroid. A spacecraft was sent to crash against the asteroid and change its orbit. As expected, it crashed into the asteroid on 26th September 2022. Before the impact of DART, it took Dimorphos, the test asteroid, 11 hours and 55 minutes to orbit its larger parent asteroid Didymos. After the impact, astronomers all over the world are trying to see the change in the time period. The time period had shortened from 11 hours and 55 minutes to 11 hours and 23 minutes, which is 32 minutes shortened.
Before the impact, NASA had defined the minimum successful orbital period change as 73 seconds or more. DART surpassed this benchmark by more than 25 times. This mission was successful but we have a long way to go before being 100% sure that we can protect our planet.
Space organisations such as the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), National Aeronautics and Space Association (NASA) etc are working on several projects to safeguard Earth and mankind. After all, life is about trying things to see if they work. One day when these experiments work, we can be sure that the blue planet will remain blue and thriving.