Successful Kinetic Impact into an Asteroid for Planetary Defense

Daly, R.T., Ernst, C.M., Barnouin, O.S., …Isabel Herreroset al. Successful Kinetic Impact into an Asteroid for Planetary Defense. Nature (2023).

While no known asteroid poses a threat to Earth for at least the next century, the catalog of near-Earth asteroids is incomplete for objects whose impacts would produce regional devastation. Several approaches have been proposed to potentially prevent an asteroid impact with Earth by deflecting or disrupting an asteroid. A test of kinetic impact technology was identified as the highest priority space mission related to asteroid mitigation. NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission is the first full-scale test of kinetic impact technology. The mission’s target asteroid was Dimorphos, the secondary member of the S-type binary near-Earth asteroid (65803) Didymos. This binary asteroid system was chosen to enable ground-based telescopes to quantify the asteroid deflection caused by DART’s impact. While past missions have utilized impactors to investigate the properties of small bodies, those earlier missions were not intended to deflect their targets and did not achieve measurable deflections. Here we report the DART spacecraft’s autonomous kinetic impact into Dimorphos and reconstruct the impact event, including the timeline leading to impact, the location and nature of the DART impact site, and the size and shape of Dimorphos. The successful impact of the DART spacecraft with Dimorphos and the resulting change in Dimorphos’s orbit7 demonstrates that kinetic impactor technology is a viable technique to potentially defend Earth if necessary.

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