It sounds like something out of a movie: Earth scientists shoot down asteroids. This has now become reality for the first time, even if it was “only” an asteroid moon.
Munich – You only know it from Hollywood films: An asteroid crashes into a space shuttle – usually the harbinger of a planet-threatening end-of-time scenario. Not so in real life. For the first time, a deliberate collision between a NASA probe and an asteroid moon has been initiated. There was a tremendous crash in space – and the researchers are hoping for useful information for the future. Because what they saw in the analysis was “pretty incredible”.
The US space agency NASA had sent the probe in the direction of “Dimorphos” in order to change its career – not so dissimilar to what happens in many a Hollywood film. In “Armageddon”, for example, the earth-threatening asteroid is not blown up by a probe, but by an atomic bomb. Dimporphos orbits the asteroid Didymos.
Dust cloud with a diameter of several thousand kilometers
The NASA probe “DART” hit the Dimorphos with full force. The asteroid warning system Atlas released video of the mission, composed of images from its telescope in South Africa. According to Atlas scientist Larry Denneau, the telescope took a picture every 40 seconds. The resulting video therefore shows a period of two hours in time lapse. Denneau explained that the “DART” probe created a “very, very large” cloud of dust upon impact. It had a diameter of several thousand kilometers.
Videos from Mission Headquarters show cheering staff after it became clear the impact was massive. “We have done damage to Dimorphos,” said Patrick Michel of the European Space Agency (ESA), which is involved in interpreting the experiment. The volume of the “ejected material” is “rather unbelievable”.
The orbit was changed by ten minutes. The dust cloud can now also be used to estimate the density of Dimorphos’ surface. Analysis of the impact is ongoing. For an even more detailed investigation, ESA wants to send out its “Hera” probe in 2024, which should reach the asteroid in two years. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) is also significantly involved in this. (cg)
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