Confirmed impact: a NASA spacecraft deliberately crashed on an asteroid on Monday in order to deflect its trajectory, during an unprecedented test mission which should allow humanity to learn how to protect itself from a potential threat future.
The ship, smaller than a car, rushed at a speed of more than 20,000 km / h on its target, reached at the scheduled time (23:14 GMT). The NASA teams, gathered at the mission control center in Maryland, in the United States, exploded with joy at the moment of the collision.
A few minutes before, the asteroid Dimorphos, located about 11 million kilometers from Earth, has gradually grown on the spectacular images broadcast live by the ship. We could clearly distinguish the pebbles on its gray surface, just before the images stop at the moment of the explosion.
“We are embarking on a new era, where we potentially have the ability to shield ourselves from a dangerous asteroid impact,” said Lori Glaze, director of planetary sciences at NASA.
Dimorphos is about 160 meters in diameter and poses no danger to our planet. It is actually the satellite of a larger asteroid, Didymos, which it has so far circumnavigated in 11 hours and 55 minutes. NASA seeks to reduce the orbit of Dimorphos by 10 minutes, that is to say to bring it closer to Didymos.
It will take a few days to a few weeks before scientists can confirm that the trajectory of the asteroid has indeed been altered. They will do this thanks to telescopes on Earth, which will observe the variation in brightness as the small asteroid passes in front and behind the large one.
If the goal remains modest compared to the disaster scenarios of science fiction films like “Armageddon”, this “planetary defense” mission, named Dart (dart, in English), is the first to test such a technique. It allows NASA to train in case an asteroid threatens to hit Earth one day.
“I think Earthlings can now sleep soundly, I will,” said Elena Adams, an engineer on the mission.
– Closely scrutinized –