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NASA DART Mission a Success

Astronomer Nick Moskovitz and his daughter pose with the final image captured by DRACO before impact. Credit: Kevin Schindler

NASA DART Mission a Success

On Monday, September 26, 2022, people all around the world watched live as NASA’s unprecedented DART spacecraft impacted the surface of asteroid Dimorphos the smaller member of the binary asteroid system Didymos. The excitement was palpable here on Mars Hill, where the Earth Strikes Back Impact Party was in full swing. Excited guests gathered around television screens to watch history unfold in real time — among them, Lowell astronomers Nick Moskovitz and Teddy Kareta, both of whom played vital roles on the DART mission. “It looked like everything worked perfectly… Those last couple of images were just incredible,” Moskovitz said in a statement to KNAU Science & Technology Reporter Melissa Sevigny.

“Thirty minutes ago it was dot, right?” Kareta added, “and then we got to see it become a world, and then the camera exploded. What a job we have, oh my god!”

Without context, the thought of crashing an expensive spacecraft into a rocky celestial body and celebrating it as a success is a strange one. But rest assured, this particular crash was very intentional—and could mean a safer tomorrow for our planet.

Astronomers Kareta and Moskovitz look at images of Dimorphos in the moments after the asteroid was impacted by the DART spacecraft. Credit: Melissa Sevigny/KNAU

NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) was launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in November of 2021. Its mission: To assess the potential of using a spacecraft impact to deflect an asteroid. The spacecraft itself weighed in at 1,340 lbs, and carried with it a Sun sensor, a star tracking software called SMART Nav (Small-body Maneuvering Autonomous Real Time Navigation) and a 7.9″ aperture camera called DRACO (Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation). As planned, DRACO gathered images and sent them back to Earth up until the very moment of impact.

Moskovitz and Kareta will continue to study Dimorphos’s orbit and monitor for changes using the Lowell Discovery Telescope (LDT) located near Happy Jack, Arizona. Other astronomers will do the same from their respective observatories around the world. We here on Mars Hill can hardly wait to see the impact (pun very much intended) this mission will have on the future of planetary defense.

Impact Party-goers react to live footage of the DART impact at Lowell’s Giovale Open Deck Observatory. Credit: Nate Nise

Stay tuned for the latest updates on the DART mission!

In the meantime, check out:

Star Stuff Podcast

Throwing DARTs: Exploring NASA’s Planetary Defense Mission

In this episode of Star Stuff, Cody, Hailey, Lowell Astronomer Dr. Nick Moskovitz, and DART Team Lead Dr. Cristina Thomas will discuss the ins and outs of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission.

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