Castiel Haripersad ’25
On November 23, 2021, at 12:21, NASA launched the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), which served as the first test of new defenses against asteroids colliding with Earth. DART was a collaboration between NASA, SpaceX, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, and many others.
DART’s mission was to intercept Dimorphos, an asteroid with a diameter of 160 metres, weighing roughly 11.02 billion pounds, equivalent to nearly 1 370 889 fully grown African elephants! Dimorphos orbits a much larger and heavier asteroid named Didymos which has a diameter closer to 780 metres.
On September 26, at 9:17 am, DART impacted Dimorphos after traveling 11 million kilometers over a period of 10 months. DART marked the first use of a kinetic impactor to deflect an asteroid; the previous solution for eliminating an asteroid thread was exploding it. Seeing as this could cause great collateral damage, the scientists behind DART proposed a more effective and safe way to prevent an asteroid collision with Earth.
DART was a major success, reducing the asteroid’s orbiting time by thirty-two minutes to 11 hours and 23 minutes. While that may not seem consequential, a change in orbit by thirty-two minutes would be enough to avert an asteroid impact with Earth. DART’s success is impressive, considering the impactor weighed only 1325 pounds compared to Dimorphos’ 11 billion pounds.
In the past year, we have seen great advancements in new technologies and spacecraft which have let us discern more about the universe around us. Just as the James Webb Space Telescope, which launched a month after it, DART utilized revolutionary technology including the Hall Ion Thruster which helped it reach its target 11 million kilometers away. DART is truly the first of its kind and, while there are many more things to build and discover, DART will always remain a testament to human creativity and ingenuity.
Photo credit: NASA/John Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben